Beaten and criticised from pillar to post, Canberra Capitals coach Paul Goriss maintains it was a matter of short-term pain for long-term gain.
Both he and his young playing group are starting to reap the rewards.
Without captain Nat Hurst, the Capitals claimed their fourth win in five games in a nail-biting 63-59 triumph over the Dandenong Rangers at Dandenong Stadium on Saturday.
While their playoff hopes evaporated long ago, the Capitals’ stunning turnaround has left the door ajar for a sixth-placed finish if they can cause a major boilover in the final round.
It was a sense of deja vu – just two weeks ago Canberra played the same team at the same venue, and snapped a 13-game losing streak on the same night they lost Rachel Jarry to concussion.
This time Jarry watched from courtside, Hurst hadn’t made the trip due to a middle ear infection, and it was an equally tense result as the Capitals returned to the winner’s circle.
Hurst’s absence saw boom rookie Maddison Rocci [10 points, five assists] take the reins at point guard and she maintained her unbeaten record as a starter.
Rocci is one of a host of Canberra players Goriss believes will be better for the run with an eye on the future.
“We’ve been criticised at times for playing everyone and giving everyone those minutes, but this is the reap of those rewards towards the end of the season,” Goriss said.
“It’s always tough at this time of the season when you know you’re not in playoffs to get up for games and to be focused.
“I think the girls have done a hell of a job in the circumstances during that loss streak to stay positive, stay focused and keep working.
“We’re reaping the rewards and their hard work continues to pay off in times like these. There’s opportunities for people to step up even without the people that we didn’t have today.
“We reap the rewards at the end of the season but it’s also about next season too, they’ll be better for getting some court time. Ezi [Magbegor], Maddy [Rocci] and those types, they’re better for it now.”
Stand-in captain Kate Gaze [14 points, five rebounds] played a starring role and Chevannah Paalvast had dished off five assists in the first half alone as Canberra took a 39-29 lead.
The break came at the perfect time for a Rangers side running on fumes to finish the half, and the Stephanie Blicavs-inspired hosts sliced the deficit to seven leading into the final quarter.
Rocci hit two free throws to make it a three-point ball game with 21 seconds left and Gaze knocked over one more to put the game beyond doubt.
Magbegor played just six minutes as she continues to adapt to the physicality of the league, but it didn’t stop the Capitals giving their fans the perfect Christmas present.
“It’s like anything, when somebody is out, we’ve got Nat and Rach out, everybody has to step up and contribute,” Goriss said.
“We’ve got depth even though we’re young and everyone can come in and contribute. That’s how our offence is structured, we’re not just keyed in on one player.
“There’s opportunities for everyone to score when the opportunity presents itself.”
The bulk of the Capitals’ squad will remain in Victoria for Christmas with their families, while Hurst, Paalvast and Jordan Hooper will return to Canberra.
A battle with the league-leading Perth Lynx awaits as the Capitals look to finish their season on a high at the National Convention Centre on Friday night.
AT A GLANCE
WNBL: CANBERRA CAPITALS 63 (Kate Gaze 14, Maddison Rocci 10, Mistie Bass 9) bt DANDENONG RANGERS 59 (Stephanie Blicavs 17, Tayla Roberts 15, Carley Mijovic 11) at Dandenong Stadium.