AUCKLAND Dream have kept their momentum rolling from the Schick 3X3 Cup title win with an opening night win in the Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) 18IN18 competition thanks to a three-pointer from Arielle Mackey-Williams with just seven seconds remaining. The Dream might have got up in the 3X3 tournament, but it was clear that Waikato Wizards were up for the fight early on, winning the first two quarters before the home team hit back to escape with a 61-58 victory.
It was somewhat of an omen that Mackey-Williams was the first to get on the board for the season, making a layup 14 seconds into the match. Both teams were a little nervous and off target at first, before Sharne Pupuke-Robati scored the only other basket in the first two an a half minutes. Finally hitting the scoreboard, the Wizards’ Matangiroa Flavell nailed an important jump shot and swung the momentum back in the underdogs’ favour.
Both teams traded back-and forth baskets in the first term, with the lead out to as much as four points when Zarya Poulava completed an And-One chance with 27 remaining. Amanda Wayment secured a couple of free throws with four seconds left in the first term to help her Dream side to get within two points.
The second term was much like the first with both teams able to hit the scoreboard, but also miss some golden chances. Flavell extended the Wizards’ lead out to four points with a triple just a couple of minutes into the term, which was followed up by Natasha Lenden‘s free throws that resulted in a match-high six-point advantage.
Each time the Wizards skipped away, the Dream reeled them in, with as much as a six-point lead with 88 seconds left in the half, with Flavell again productive on the offensive end. A couple of late free throws in the final 30 seconds to Mackey-Williams cut the deficit to four, and the term was identical to the first at 14-12 in favour of the Wizards.
Needing a spark after half-time, Casyn Buchman hit an early two-pointer, and the teams traded blows with Alyssa Hirawani four points in response. Pupuke-Robati was starting to get a feel for it though for Auckland and between her and Buchman, the pair combined for their team’s first 13 points of the half. It led them to a lead, which never got more than two points as both teams remained capable of taking back the momentum. A late Jayzelee Waihi layup for the Wizards tied up the game at 47-47, but most importantly for the Dream, they had won the quarter by four.
The stage was set for a ripping last term, but early on it was the Dream that looked liked running away with it. Mackey-Williams and Pupuke-Robati extended the gap on the scoreboard out to five, as the Wizards only scored their first basket four minutes and 20 seconds into the term. A couple of misses for the Dream opened the door for the Wizards, as Makayla Daysh and Hirawani levelled the scores with just over three minutes to play.
Missing a chance moments early, Wayment stepped up with an important layup to again hand her team the lead, but Daysh hit the match-levelling free throws with two minutes and 56 seconds left on the clock. Both teams committed an array of errors or missed shots in the final couple of minutes as the pressure was through the roof. Plenty of substitutions were made on and off in a bid to gain the advantage, but it took until Arielle Parai made the fade away jumper to hand the Wizards the lead with 33 seconds on the clock.
A Dream timeout and reset seemed to do the trick, as Pupuke-Robati hit the layup play off the Buchman assist to level the scores with 31 seconds remaining. The Wizards took their turn at a timeout but Hirawani missed her layup opportunity, with Pupuke-Robati scooping up the rebound getting it to Buchman who again provided the crucial dime to Mackey-Williams from long-range who made no mistake with the game winner. Hirawani had a rushed shot with one second remaining, but it was not going to get there and the Dream escaped in a thriller.
Looking at the overall stats, the teams will want to improve on their shooting efficiency, recording just 32 and 33 per cent from the field, though both were impressive off the boards. The Wizards won the count 48-47, and also had more steals (14-8), while the Dream had more assists (16-12) and blocks (6-5), as well as less turnovers (20-22).
Pupuke-Robati was the standout with 23 points, 10 rebounds, one assist and one steal, whilst Buchman also picked up a double-double for the Dream thanks to 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and one steal. Mackey-Williams had the 11 points and three assists, while Wayment finished with a handy six points, seven rebounds, three assists and a massive five blocks.
For the Wizards, Flavell led the way with points thanks to 12, as well as four rebounds and five steals, but it was Daysh who was clearly best-on in the losing side. The forward racked up 10 points, 12 rebounds – six offensive – and two blocks. Parai (nine points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Hirawani (six points, four rebounds and three steals) also impressed.
The Dream will not have too long to bask in glory having to back up tonight against Canterbury Wildcats, while for the Wizards, they get a long break before coming up against Otago Gold Rush and the Wildcats back-to-back on November 24-25.