Opals player Lauren Nicholson hit clutch buckets down the stretch as the Townsville Fire survived a huge scare in their WNBL season opener to beat the Adelaide Lightning 70-59 on the road.
Last season’s grand finalists were cruising with a commanding 53-31 lead late in the third quarter before the match turned on its head.
The Lightning lifted their defence to liven up the Lights Community and Sports Centre and a put back by Marena Whittle reduced the margin to one point with less than four minutes left.
But Nicholson hit consecutive jump shots under pressure to steady the Fire and a three-pointer from Mia Murray with just over one minute left effectively iced the match.
Nicholson, a former WNBL defensive player of the year, finished with a game-high 24 points while Stephanie Talbot led the Lightning (0-1) with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m really proud of the girls. It’s been a long pre-season,” Nicholson told the ABC.
“Adelaide were always going to be a really tough team and they have some high quality players, so we are happy to come away with our first win.”
In other action, Melbourne Boomers enjoyed a convincing 91-72 home victory over reigning champions Southside Flyers.
A 14-0 run either side of the quarter-time break gave the Boomers a strong buffer and they never let the Flyers (1-1) back in the contest.
Tiffany Mitchell (22 points and 9 rebounds), Lindsay Allen (22 points) and Tess Madgen (20 points) dominated a disappointing Flyers, who were led by Maddison Rocci’s 21 points.
It was a return to form for Boomers who lost the opening match of round two on December 8 against Bendigo Spirit (1-1).
A three-pointer from Cayla George narrowed the Boomers’ deficit to two points inside the final minute but the home side eventually prevailed 63-58.
Spirit’s Anneli Maley had a game-high 18 points while George top-scored for Boomers with 16 points.
Sunday’s fixture between UC Capitals and Sydney Uni Flames in Canberra was cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 case to a member of the Capitals club.
The WNBL is aiming to reschedule the match later in the season.
The Capitals had beaten the Flames 58-55 in Sydney in round one.
Round three starts on December 18 when the Flyers will be out for revenge against Boomers at Dandenong Stadium.