The Queensland Firebirds' finals prospects are out of their control after falling 79-69 to the West Coast Fever at Brisbane's Nissan Arena.
West Coast notched a classy victory for coach Stacey Marinkovich in her 100th game in charge of the Fever, who now look certain to seal their place in the top four with two rounds left in the regular season.
To be any chance of sneaking into the finals, the Firebirds must win their last two outings and rely on the Fever imploding.
That's highly unlikely, and to make matters worse, Queensland lost wing attack Jemma Mi Mi to an Achilles tendon injury in the final term.
Jhaniele Fowler was unstoppable with 64 goals at 97 per cent accuracy for the Fever and midcourter Verity Charles (39 feeds, 27 with an attempt on goal) reminded Australian selectors of her potency at wing attack.
Charles was delighted to have honoured Marinkovich's contribution to the club with an important win, but refused to entertain premature thoughts about securing a title for the coach in her final season at the Fever before taking charge of the Diamonds fulltime.
"Don't jinx it. At the moment, with COVID, it's one step at a time," Charles said. "We'll just keep chipping away."
For all their firepower, West Coast led by just one goal late in the third quarter.
A spree of second half intercepts and deflections to Firebirds defender Kim Jenner kept the hosts within reach of the West Australians.
Goal attack Gretel Bueta was outstanding for the Firebirds with 25 goals and 19 feeds but the Queenslanders were punished heavily by the Fever for their turnovers and the umpires for their indiscretions.
The Firebirds were brave. Case in point, goalkeeper Rudi Ellis in only her second start, drained every drop of vigour in her duel with Fever target Fowler.
Ellis took on Fowler in the air, on the ground and between the ears.
While Fowler proved the difference, she was made to earn every shot by the young defender who was given an opportunity to cement a starting role in the absence of injured vice-captain Tara Hinchliffe.
Queensland made seven unforced errors in the first half and the Fever scored from all of them.
Australian Associated Press