Lauren Jackson and the Canberra TransAct Capitals are headed for the WNBL’s Grand Final after knocking off the rival Sydney Uni Acuvue Flames 61-56 in Saturday’s Preliminary Final. After Sydney led early, Jackson scored 10 of her 14 points in the second quarter to put visiting Canberra ahead at halftime. The Capitals nursed the advantage throughout the second half and Jackson’s putback with 36 seconds left kept the Flames from having the ball with a chance to tie.
Even on a night where she was quiet on offense, shooting 6-of-20 from the field, Jackson was still a force in the paint. She grabbed 18 boards, eight of them on the offensive end, and blocked four shots. Natalie Hurst led Canberra with 18 points. Sydney’s Deanna Smith led all scorers by putting up 20 points, but no other Flames reached double-figures. The team missed Suzy Batkovic-Brown, who was unable to play due to a left knee injury.
The Capitals advance to take on the Bulleen Bombers in the Grand Finals next Saturday. Bulleen enters the game 22-1 on the season, having crushed Sydney at home in last week’s semifinal. The Bombers are also the only team to defeat Canberra since Jackson began playing for the Caps, winning 88-78 at home on Feb. 13. So Canberra will need to pull an upset for Jackson to add a sixth WNBL championship to her trophy case.
Sue Bird is also no stranger to championships, and Spartak Moscow Region’s bid for a fourth consecutive Euroleague title took another step forward last Friday when Spartak worked overtime to defeat Fenerbahce 87-85 in Game 2, sweep their quarterfinal series 2-0 and reach the Euroleague Final Four. The Turkish squad rallied from a 15-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to tie the score with 12 seconds left on a Nicole Powell jumper. Powell was unable to recapture the magic in the extra session, missing twice after Diana Taurasi put Spartak ahead for good with 24 seconds to play.
Taurasi scored 38 points on 13-of-30 shooting, while Sylvia Fowles (the Euroleague Player of the Week) had 26 points (shooting 12-of-15 from the field) and 19 boards for Spartak. Bird was the third player in double-figures for the Russian side, finishing with 10 points and three assists. Powell led Fenerbahce with 23 points.
“This was a great game between two very good teams,” said Spartak Coach Pokey Chatman. “If I was a fan I would probably enjoy it very much.”
To join Spartak in the Final Four, Wisla Can-Pack will need to survive a Game 3 at home after losing 87-72 to Frisco Sika Brno on the road in Game 2. Brno opened up a close game by outscoring Wisla 23-14 in the third quarter. After outplaying counterpart Taj McWilliams in Game 1, Janell Burse was limited to three points and one rebound in the loss, shooting 1-of-7 from the field. Eva Viteckova had 25 points and McWilliams 20 for Brno. The series returns to Poland for Game 3, which will be played on Wednesday.
The two other quarterfinal series saw UMMC Ekaterinburg and Ros Casares Valencia reach the Final Four with sweeps. Ros Casares eliminated Le’coe Willingham and Halcon Avenida, which was bidding for a second straight Final Four trip, with a 63-57 Game 2 victory. Willingham had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Sancho Lyttle also recorded a double-double (17 points, 10 boards), but Avenida shot just 4-of-17 from beyond the arc.
The last of the Storm playoff action took place in Israel, where Camille Little and Maccabi Ramat Hen pulled off an upset of Elizur Maccabi Natanya in the teams’ best-of-five quarterfinal series. First, Ramat Hen forced the deciding game by defeating Natanya 86-71 at home in Game 4. Little (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Tiffany Jackson (21 points, 11 rebounds) both had double-doubles up front. Ramat Hen went on the road for yesterday’s Game 5 and came up with a 78-74 win. Little led all scorers with 23 points and grabbed nine boards. Ramat Hen joins Ashley Walker and Maccabi Ashdod in the quarterfinals.