The 2021 Sal’s New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) season is right around the corner with 33 games to be played across five action-packed weeks. As we look forward to the first tip-off, Draft Central will be previewing each of the six teams competing for championship glory, continuing with the Canterbury Wildcats.
After a winless 2020 season, the Wildcats are “chomping at the bit” to get back on the court according to head coach Mel Downer, as her team prepares for the beginning of the 2021 campaign.
The squad has a couple of welcome returns in Tessa Boagni and Lauryn Hippolite, after Boagni missed last season having given birth, while Hippolite was one of two players who suffered an injury the week before last season begun, with Tessa Morrison still recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury.
Speaking on Boagni, Downer said it was “exciting to have her back in the fold”.
“She’s a Canterbury Wildcat from years past as well, so she’s got a lot of experience to add.”
As the Wildcats gain the well-versed Boagni, they will lose the experienced head of Shay Crotty who has retired. Meanwhile, a strong core returns this season including Gemma Etheredge, Rosalia Samia, Millie Knight, Tiana Placid, Brittany Richards and Sapphire Wairau.
Downer says one to watch this season is Hannah Mischewski given her form as of late.
“She’s been carving it up in the local leagues here… and she’s a rising point guard of the game and someone to keep an eye out for.”
After an interrupted week leading into last season, Downer is looking forward to a fresh start this season and says the Wildcats are focused on their process.
“We started a process last year around professionalism and a style of play that we think if we were able to execute and do consistently well, it puts us in a place to be successful. So, the goal for us is to build on the process that we started last year, and to really use that as a foundation to be consistently competitive,” Downer said.
Downer said it is no surprise to anyone who saw the NBL last season that she loves to coach a high intensity, aggressive defence and allow the offence to follow from good guarding of opposition players.
“Expect to see again a lot of ball pressure, lane pressure and full court defence. That’s how we like to play and generate our offence from our defence.”
The hard pressing defence Downer talks about was on display last season as the Wildcats clearly led the league in steals per game, with their average of 16.4 almost three more than the next best in Harbour Breeze. Unfortunately, though, Canterbury leaked the most points out of any team (343 across their five matches) and were ranked last in the competition for blocks (0.8 per game). They also scored the least amount of points averaging 54.6 per game.
The Wildcats will certainly be looking to generate more scoring chances on the back of their high steal numbers, while also looking to tighten up their defence around the basket, something which Downer says the players have been working hard on during a long pre-season.
“We’ve been scrimmaging, bringing in some local guys to come in and play against us, which has been really helpful with our preparation, but it doesn’t replicate the real thing. So, the players are really excited to get out of preseason and get into the competition phase.”
Asked about making the jump into the finals this year, Downer said the team is just focusing on each game as it comes.
“For us, it’s just one game at a time, so that’s all we can control, how we approach each game. So, our mindset at the moment is just taking care of business each game as it comes, and if we can do that the rest takes care of itself,” she said.
The Wildcats will be put to the ultimate test when they face reigning champions Harbour Breeze on Friday night (8pm local time), before they suit up again on Sunday night against Auckland.
All 33 games will be played at Pulman Arena in Takinini, South Auckland, and make sure you’re watching Sky Sport in New Zealand for all the live action.
2021 season roster:
- Tessa Boagni
- Nicole Cutler
- Tarai Elia
- Gemma Etheredge
- Nicole Gleason
- Lauryn Hippolite
- Millie Knight
- Hannah Mischewski
- Tiana Pacid
- Brittany Richards
- Rosalia Samia
- Emma Trolove
- Sapphire Wairau
Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL