Spirit 89 Capitals 66
Canberra Capitals v Bendigo Bank Spirit
Abby Bishop and Natalie Hurst react after losing the game. Photo: Melissa Adams
Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf says ''baby bigs'' Alex Bunton and Carley Mijovic will emerge from their baptism of fire better players after the undersized hosts were brutally exposed by Bendigo 89-66 at AIS Arena on Sunday.
For the second straight match, the Capitals were out-rebounded 46-23 by the defending WNBL champions as the after effects of their failure to sign Lauren Jackson hit home.
Post players Bunton, Mijovic and Abby Bishop have shouldered a huge workload as a result, and the experienced Spirit took full advantage.
Bendigo centre Gabrielle Richards (19 points, 15 rebounds) racked up 12 points and eight rebounds in the first quarter alone as Bendigo built a commanding 29-13 lead. Canberra responded to get within six early in the third quarter, but Bendigo responded to build a match-winning 17-point lead at the final break.
Forward Sara Blicavs (16 points, 10 rebounds) also grabbed a double-double as Bendigo's experience and size told. The Spirit hammered the Capitals 20-3 on the offensive glass, scored 16 second-chance points to zero and won the points in the paint 46-24.
Mijovic (16 points) was a shining light offensively, while Australian Opals forward Bishop (20 points) also toiled hard without being at her best.
But teams are heavily targetting Canberra's youth and lack of depth inside, and Graf said they needed to adapt. Jackson left for China on Saturday to begin a one-year deal with Heilongjiang Shenda.
''The timing of that [Jackson's contract breakdown] happening, we're a player short there's no question,'' Graf said. ''We're a post down and we've got two baby posts. They're going to be good, but they've got a long way to go and teams go at them. You're not going to win any contest losing the rebound count as much as that, even if you play the hell out of it.
''Once we got it back to six we made two critical errors and the game broke open after that.''
Canberra's revamped side is still taking time to click, while Bendigo's experienced line-up has been together for years.
It showed on Sunday, particularly on the offensive end with five Spirit players scoring double figures. ''They're a well-oiled machine with great talent and experience, they showed that,'' Graf said.
''I thought we showed great urgency to get the margin back to six, but the possession game is really hurting us right now. If you play an entire game and only get three offensive rebounds, you're not going to win any contest.''
Looking for 15 points to become the seventh WNBL player to score 4000 or more, Canberra skipper Jess Bibby scored just five as Kristi Harrower shut her down.
Now 1-3, the Capitals have a short turnaround before hosting Adelaide on Friday.
BENDIGO SPIRIT 89 (Gabrielle Richards 19, Sara Blicavs 16, Kelly Wilson 13) bt CANBERRA CAPITALS 66 (Abby Bishop 20, Carley Mijovic 16, Nat Hurst 10) at AIS Arena on Sunday. Crowd: 1008.