Canberra Capitals forward Brigitte Ardossi tries to make a basket. Photo: Matthew Smithwick
A 71-80 point loss to Bendigo Spirit capped the end of a turbulent couple of weeks for the Canberra Capitals in Albury on Sunday - but a period the team has navigated admirably and still in the top four.
Already without injured star Lauren Jackson, the Caps embarked on three matches against the top two teams without mentor Carrie Graf, who took time off to spend with her seriously ill father.
News of his death last weekend, then his funeral on Wednesday, led into a ''home'' game in Albury amid plenty of fanfare; it was the return of local product Jackson to the sports centre named in her honour, and long-term assistant coach Sandy Tomley was left to steady the ship.
''To the girls' credit I think they've handled everything in the last two weeks really well - they're very balanced about it all, and they realised what the job is at hand,'' Tomley said.
''They're disappointed to get the loss, but they can see there's some positives, and we are getting better.''
With Jackson on the sideline, Capitals' bigs Samantha Norwood (16 points, nine rebounds) and Brigitte Ardossi (13 points) again stepped up against Bendigo's in-form centre Gabrielle Richards (14 points), as they tried to inflict a second defeat on the Spirit.
The always-dangerous Kristi Harrower was limited to 11 points for the game and pressured into seven turnovers by a team defensive effort, and at the halfway mark Canberra held a five-point lead.
But the league-leading Spirit showed off their firepower in the second, namely WNBA import Kelsey Griffin. ''She had three early fouls, so she was pretty much non-existent in the first half,'' Tomley said. ''When they put her in the third and fourth she was a big turning point, they had too many weapons for us to stop.''
Griffin scored 20 points, including 8/10 from the field. Bendigo's ability to hit their shots was a far cry from the week before, when the Caps won their first encounter, and proved the difference in the end.
''We got the team down to the low shot clock on a lot of possessions and so they had to make some big shots, they shot the ball a lot better than the week before. We probably shot ourselves in the foot a little bit by not making some shots we should have.''
With Graf expected to return to Canberra, Tomley will hand back the reins to a club in good shape. ''There's still a positive vibe in the group, we're getting better and better each week, and obviously with Graffy out we've gone two losses and one win, which is a whole lot better than three losses,'' Tomley said. ''I think she'll be pleased to come back and pick up where she left off, and the group can keep progressing.''