The Canberra Capitals were on the cusp of a fairytale comeback but ultimately were left to rue their second straight defeat in the WNBL, leaving coach Paul Goriss calling for more passion in the opening term.
A first-quarter blitz led to the Capitals chasing their tails as they fell 81-75 to the Sydney Flames in Sydney on Sunday.
Poor shot selections and inconsistent defensive efforts left Goriss frustrated, as Canberra suffered a bad case of deja-vu and played catch-up in the first term.
"There needs to be more passion about us in the first half so we don't give up big leads like we've done over the course of the weekend," Goriss said.
"We've played two very good teams who have shot the ball very well, while we weren't able to shoot very well at all from the three-point line.
"When you're chasing your tail from the very start of the game, teams get confidence and a good lead. We need to do a better job of coming out more aggressive defensively."
Sydney looked like they were going to cruise to a massive victory when they held an 18-point lead at quarter-time, but that's where their charge stalled.
The Flames rallied but Canberra hung tough and chipped away at the margin, bringing it down to six points in the second quarter as the hosts succumbed to increased defensive pressure.
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The height of Marianna Tolo proved vital as she led the Capitals' rebounds chart with nine takes in 20 minutes.
The Capitals took 12 offensive boards in the first-half to Sydney's three, but turnovers and shot accuracy proved the difference as Canberra fought their way back into the match.
Alex Kunek finished with a game-high 24 points while Kia Nurse led the way for Canberra with 21 points, as Keely Froling and Kelsey Griffin registered 19 and 17 points respectively.
The Capitals shot just 33 per cent from the field with Goriss left to rue poor execution and shot selections.
"We have to execute better down the stretch," Goriss said.
"We take too many contested shots, so we'll go back and work on our execution, how we want to get our shots and where we get our shots from.
"There's still some things we can be positive about, but we have to turn it around very quickly."
Epoupa inspired a second-half comeback as she dazzled in both attack and defence, drawing fouls from under the basket, diving on loose-balls and helped force the Flames to shoot out wide.
The Capitals trimmed the deficit back to four points in the final term but it proved too tall a mountain to climb with seconds remaining on the clock.
Nurse caused an offensive foul as Maddison Rocci narrowed down the margin with a jump-shot, leaving the Capitals with no reward as Tahlia Tupaea converted both free throws to put the result beyond doubt.
"They'll always have a go, they stay in the game and compete," Goriss said.
"That's the leadership we've got with Tolo and Kelsey - with everyone - they're not going to give up. I think that's a good characteristic trait of our group.
"We could have backed up very easily with the way Sydney were playing. We fought until the very end, we were in it right to the very end.
"I can't ask anything more of the group. They played their backsides off, gave it a shot and we'll go home and work on some things and get better.
"We're four games into the season with a new group, and a new point-guard. Tolo is still coming back into the group and we're still waiting on Mikaela Ruef."
Goriss is confident the Capitals will do one better and hit them where it counts when they host the Flames at the AIS next Saturday.
WNBL - ROUND 3
Sunday: SYDNEY FLAMES 81 (Alice Kunek 24, Tahlia Tupaea 23, Alex Wilson 18) bt CANBERRA CAPITALS 75 (Kia Nurse 21, Keely Froling 19, Kelsey Griffin 17).