Breeze provides knockout blow for Wildcats in big win

FOR one team, the result meant staying undefeated from three games, while for the other, it was effectively a line through their playoff hopes, as Harbour Breeze produced an impressive 22-point win over Canterbury Wildcats in the New Zealand National Basketball League’s (NZNBL) 18IN18 competition last night. The result meant the former set itself up for a top two finish, while handing the Wildcats a fourth defeat and knocking them out of contention for the 2020 title.

After an agonisingly close loss the night before, Wildcats’ Brittany Richards was first on the board with a clever hookshot in the opening 30 seconds. Though in what would become a theme for the night, Ashleigh Kelman-Poto and Brooke Blair both added baskets in 30 seconds to quickly have the Breeze back on track. For each Wildcats basket, there were two Breeze baskets, as Gabriella Fotu and Blair – this time the latter had a three-pointer – countered out the Terai-Ma-Teata Elia jump shot to push the lead out to five just over two minutes into the match.

Both teams were making a number of turnovers with ball-in-hand and missing opportunities as the chances dried up over the next few minutes. Elia finally broke the drought off a Shea Crotty dime, but once again Blair was involved, getting it to Jessica Moors who produced perfect Breeze layup. The Wildcats kept trying, with Rosalia Samia and Richards both sinking shots, but the work of Keeley Tini with a triple and then a last second Kelman-Poto jumper handed the Breeze a six-point advantage at the first break.

Crotty was quick out of the blocks for the Wildcats to chew back the clock as Blair missed a couple of chances, but the Wildcats could not punish them from the charity stripe with both Samia and Elia only hitting one of two from the line. They had got to within two points before Fotu finally got the Breeze on the board, and it kick-started a run of eight consecutive points, the next six came from the red-hot Blair who found her range inside the arc.

In the space of a few minutes, the lead was out to double-digits and the Wildcats needed a response. Samia, Isabelle Cook and Crotty all quickly piled on baskets in the space of a minute, shaving seven points off the 10-point deficit. Kelman-Poto had returned to the court and made up for lost time with four consecutive points for the Breeze to blow it back out to 28-21, before Cook hit a timely jumper with 44 seconds on the clock. Many might have thought that would be it for the quarter, but instead it was the Blair show, as the talented shooter knocked down back-to-back triples in what was a remarkable double-digit quarter for the talent, her last second bomb making the half-time margin 11 points.

Both Blair and Kelman-Poto continued after the break and combined for seven of the first nine points, with every Wildcats basket immediately receiving a response from the Breeze. The Breeze duo dictated play for a lot of of the time, and despite a Gemma Etheredge triple midway through the term for the Wildcats, they could not get enough momentum to chew into the deficit.

The lead went out to as much as 17 points at one stage, with the Wildcats able to reel it in to 11, as long-range shooting from Lauryn Hippolite, Richards and Etheredge helped, but even the last minute triple from Etheredge could only cut the final break deficit to 10. Once again the Breeze scored seven of the first nine points of the final term. From there it was largely academic and more about how much the final margin would be, which eventuated into a 22-point difference between the teams, 81-59.

The Breeze were simply more accurate from the field, hitting 53 per cent of their chances to the Wildcats’ 40 per cent, though Canterbury hit seven of 20 three-pointers to keep themselves in the contest. The stats as a whole were fairly even, with the Breeze’s 6-1 blocks advantage the key, though they only won the assist count by four (17-13). The Wildcats won the rebound (35-34) and steal (17-16) counts, whilst both teams managed nine second chance points, though Canterbury had 27 turnovers to 22.

Blair shot a match-high 25 points, shooting at 64 per cent from the field, including eight of 10 from inside the arc. She also dished off six assists and had three steals in an impressive performance. Working in tandem with her was Kelman-Poto (18 points, nine rebounds) who was prolific at both ends of the court. Moors finished with double-digit points off the bench thanks to 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals, while Fotu (nine points, three assists, three steals and two rebounds) was also strong.

For the Wildcats, Samia managed a team-high 12 points, as well as three assists, two steals and two rebounds, but also six turnovers. Elia made the most of her chances with 11 points and a 100 per cent field goal percentage accompanying eight rebounds, three assists and four steals as the Wildcats’ best. Etheredge had seven points and seven rebounds, but only shot two of 10 from the field and had the five turnovers. Off the bench, Hippolite had six points and three rebounds, while Cook had seven points.

Harbour Breeze now rest up until back-to-back games against Waikato Wildcats and Auckland Dream next Monday and Tuesday, whilst the final Canterbury Wildcats game will take place on the last night of competition on December 3, against Otago Gold Rush.

Picture: Photosport

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