On paper it’s comfortable enough, but Dandenong’s 98-73 win over Canberra at AIS Arena on Saturday belies the grit and gallantry of the hosts.
Rated unbackable $1.01 favourites, the title favourite Rangers were pushed to the brink by a Capitals outfit buoyed by a win in Perth last week, which snapped a nine game losing streak.
The loss means the Capitals (6-13) are now officially out of finals contention, and will be post-season spectators for the second straight season.
But the quality basketball they displayed in the first three quarters would have beaten almost any other team in the WNBL.
It was an impressive counter punch by Canberra, who lost by 39 points at home against Dandenong just a fortnight ago.
“I’m disappointed we lost and lost by that margin, but you’ve got to take a step back and realise we played some really good basketball tonight, and did it for the majority of the game,’’ guard Carly Wilson, who scored 13 points, said.
“We could have easily folded earlier and lost by 40 like we did last game but it was a game.
“They were worried for the majority and they should have been. We pushed them out of a lot of their things and were scoring ourselves.
Both teams shot over 50% from the field in an outstanding first half, the Rangers leading by just 49-45 at half-time.
Capitals skipper Jess Bibby scored 12 of her 18 points before the main break, in-form centre Brigitte Ardossi also influential with 11 of her 13 points.
Back-to-back three pointers from Carly Wilson and Jess Bibby levelled scores at 56-all midway through the third term, and one of the biggest upsets in league history was a distinct possibility.
And when Bibby nailed her fourth three-pointer of the night shortly afterward, the Capitals had grabbed a 61-60 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter.
But led by huge games from Kathleen MacLeod (22 points, five assists) and American import Monica Wright (23 points), the Rangers proved why they’re favourites to defend the title by dominating the rest of the match.
The visitors stepped up their defensive pressure markedly down the stretch and the previously efficient Capitals offense was unable to adjust.
Able to create plenty of good looks beforehand, the Capitals main ball carriers panicked after the Rangers full court defensive pressure.
The Capitals committed nine of their 19 turnovers in the last quarter alone, Dandenong outscoring them 26-9 to further shore up their place in the top two.
Dandenong smashed them on the glass 39-28, and shot 26 of 28 from free throws while Canberra (8-18) struggled from the stripe.
“I got a bit tingly [when Bibby put them ahead in the third quarter, because I thought ‘this is ours’,’’ Wilson said.
“But we expended so much energy and we just couldn’t hold on in that last quarter.
“They’re a fit, strong and defensively focussed unit, we handled that pressure for most of the game but they’re so persistent and wear you down.’’
AT A GLANCE
DANDENONG RANGERS 98 (Monica Wright 23, Kathleen MacLeod 22, Tegan Cunningham 15) bt CANBERRA CAPITALS 73 (Jess Bibby 18, Brigitte Ardossi 13, Carly Wilson 13) at AIS Arena on Saturday night. Crowd: 1139.