Canberra Capitals forward Abby Bishop drives to the basket as Sydney's Rohanee Cox watches on. Photo: Matthew Smithwick
CANBERRA Capitals coach Carrie Graf has lambasted her star players' first half efforts after their finals hopes were dealt a savage blow with an 81-68 loss to Sydney Uni Flames on Saturday night.
The Caps were their own worst enemy against the Flames, with a litany of missed and forced passes throughout the opening 20 minutes of play.
Desperately needing to win to keep in touch with the WNBL top four, 21 turnovers crippled any hope the Capitals had against their arch rivals in Albury
Graf branded the clash ''an absolute must-win'' in the lead-up, and its hopes of making the finals for the first time in three years are in serious jeopardy.
She didn't hold back after the game, saying "four or five of our players didn't come with the right focus".
Graf was deeply disappointed with young pivots Alex Bunton and Carley Mijovic, but reserved her most scathing criticism for stars Nat Hurst and Abby Bishop.
Despite six turnovers, Hurst improved after half-time to finish with 15 points, seven boards and six assists, but Australian Opals big Abby Bishop struggled all night, eventually fouling out with just seven points and six rebounds to her name.
"We have a scouting report for a reason," Graf said.
"That takes thinking and action and we didn't get it done, particularly our baby bigs tonight.
"They weren't good; I'm a huge fan of both Bunton and Mijovic and they're both going to be wonderful young players but they were sub-par with their focus tonight.
"And I have to say our star players, Hurst and Bishop, weren't quite there tonight.
"They got better in the second half; you give them a rev and speak to them about their focus and to their credit they stepped up but the horse had already bolted."
The Capitals (4-8) need to turn their fortunes around quickly after fourth-placed Townsville (6-4) beat West Coast on Saturday night.
For the second time this season Canberra had no answer to Sydney's high octane back court, who have now racked up three straight victories.
Graf condemned the Caps' decision making, describing the continual poor passing as "a killer".
"Story of the game, you're not going to win any game with 21 turnovers," Graf said.
"And only two offensive rebounds was a killer; but the turnovers, some due to pressure but a lot due to really poor decisions.
"We threw it straight to the opposition, no arc on our passes to the bigs, poor decisions, we're just not going to win games doing that.
"Four or five of our players didn't come with the right focus, either too tight or too loose and we can't play games like that.
Alicia Poto (19 points, zero turnovers) clearly outgunned Hurst in the point guard battle, whose 15 points and seven assists were tarnished by six turnovers.
Flames guards Lauren King (17 points) and Katie-Rae Ebzery (13) also had a big impact as Sydney improved their record to 5-6.
Canberra has a bye next weekend before its second Queensland double header in a month against Townsville and Logan the following week.
AT A GLANCE
SYDNEY UNI FLAMES 81 (Alicia Poto 19, Lauren King 17, Katie-Rae Ebzery 13) bt CANBERRA CAPITALS 68 (Nat Hurst 15, Jess Bibby 13, Alex Bunton 12) at Lauren Jackson Sports Centre, Albury on Saturday night. Crowd: 770