WAGGA Blaze coach Peter O'Leary praised his team's mental strength after they overcame an injury to import point guard Shakera Barnes to beat Coffs Harbour 69-64 in Sunday's Waratah League division one grand final.
In a rematch of last year's decider, the Blaze dug deep to fend off a spirited Coffs Harbour to defend their title at Terrigal, and secure a third championship in four years.
With Barnes going scoreless after injuring her hamstring in Saturday's 87-60 semi final win over Tamworth, it was left to the Blaze's front court to shoulder the load.
Fellow import Khiani Clark was dominant inside and was named player of the match with 19 points, while fellow bigs Hannah Ryan (14) and Caren Hugo (12) also capitalised on the Blaze's size advantage.
The Blaze looked set to run away with the match when a scoring surge from Ryan midway through the second quarter gave them a 36-22 lead.
But the Suns rallied to close to 37-31 at half-time and took the lead 53-52 at the final break.
Coffs Harbour had a change to tie scores with 27 seconds left, but missed a three-point attempt to hand Wagga the win.
O'Leary said overcoming the adversity of a hampered Barnes, who relies heavily on her explosiveness, was the most satisfying aspect.
"The thing for us was we knew Shakera was injured and she would have difficulty running. Her strength is her quickness and beating everyone on the dribble," he said.
"Without that other people had to step up and find other ways of scoring, and find some chemistry.
"Shakera was nowhere near her usual self and she's worth 20 points per game, if you take her out of the equation you have to find those somewhere else."
The match was full of wild momentum swings, but the Blaze's greater experience told in the dying minutes.
"Defence won it for us in the end I think. Our biggest trouble was our offence was breaking down and they weren't giving us much, they played well defensively," O'Leary said.
"In my opinion it came down to a question of will power and who wanted it the most. We told the girls if you want it, it's yours to have but you have to play harder.
"It was a very physical game which we're not used to, but we had to adapt."
O'Leary said the role players were crucial with the likes of Maddy Clyne (eight points), Amelia Hasset and Summa Stephens making key plays.
"Summa's defensive intensity is really great. She doesn't score a lot of points but gets a lot of stops and worries the hell out of the other team and Clyne and Hassett played good roles too," O'Leary said.
The Blaze also managed to overcome a quiet night from the versatile Abbey Morton, who was kept to four points after this week being named in the league's all-star five.
WAGGA BLAZE 69 (K Clark 19, H Ryan 14, C Hugo 12) def COFFS HARBOUR SUNS 64 (E Rickards 22, J Woods 11, A Polmear 11) at Terrigal on Sunday.