Strong Harbour Breeze blows past Swish with dominant second half

AN impressive second half from one of the title contenders in Harbour Breeze has seen the Breeze dominate Capital Swish thanks to their fresh legs coming into the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 18IN18 tournament for their first match. After the sides were all square at half-time, the Breeze came out with more vigour in the second half, piling on 50 points to 27 to run out 88-65 winners and tip-off their season on the right note.

After an impressive win the night before against Canterbury Wildcats, the Swish looked to started strongly, and whilst they missed a couple of chances early, Grace Simi Vaofusi quickly put a score on the board to counter that of opponent, Tiarna Clarke. The teams were neck-and-neck throughout the opening half and the first term was no different as Zara Jillings got on the board with back-to-back free throws, before Lateva Whippy produced a nice two-point layup to tie the scores.

The first bit of separation came following back-to-back baskets to the Breeze with a three-pointer from Ashleigh Kelman-Poto hitting the mark, then Brooke Blair produced a successful jump shot for a 9-4 lead. Then it became the Swish’s turn to take control, as Whippy, Vaofusi and then Dalen Pillitati all adding points on the board in what became a 10-0 run for the side to go out to a 14-9 advantage.

Following a Blair basket after Jessica Moore free throws, the lead was cut to three, before Pillati hit a three-point jumper for a four-point advantage the way of the Swish. Gabrielle Fotu responded with 40 seconds on the clock and Blair again stepped up with a layup to tie the scores, then pick up a late basket off a Te Huinga Selby-Rickit miss for a 19-19 first term.

The second term mirrored the first early as neither side could gain any real momentum as both defences were forcing misses or turnovers. It took a special Maia Jean Watene turnaround jumper four minutes into the quarter to provide the major highlight early. After that increased the Swish lead to four, the Breeze stepped up with a 7-0 run to regain the lead back with just over four minutes to play.

Blair was becoming a problem for the Swish, as she hit five points either side of an important Selby-Rickit basket, and in mirroring the first term, the Breeze this time skipped out to a six-point advantage with two minutes to play after consecutive jump shots from Keeley Tini and Olivia Bell for a 35-29 lead. Despite Vaofusi stepping up twice herself in the last couple of minutes, Tini and Bell continued to apply the scoreboard pressure. Luckily for the Swish, Paris Lokotui – who had an impressive game the night before – stepped up in the last 50 seconds for the last five points of the game including a long-range make that tied the game at half-time with seconds remaining.

There was no separating the sides at the half, but the moment the teams stepped out on court in the third term, there was a clear separation as the fresh legs of the Breeze had a frenzied approach and could not miss. Gabriella Fotu, Kelman-Poto, Blair and Jillins had piled on 10 points in the first two minutes compared for a 48-38 lead. By comparison, the Swish went 0-5 from the field to start the second half.

It took until a Vaofusi layup in the third minute for the Swish, but the early damage was done. Both teams went into a bit of a scoring drought, but the Breeze added three more points over the next three minutes as the Swish had to wait until Whippy hit successful free throws with just under five minutes remaining for their next score.

Another 5-0 run to the Breeze and the lead had blown out to 14 with just under three minutes remaining in the quarter. Every Swish basket came with a response, and the 16-point lead at the break including an And-One chance from Tini to all but seal the match with that performance.

The Swish would need something special in the final term to turn it around and Lokotui tried early with the first points of the last quarter more than two minutes in, but like the story in the third term, was immediately countered by a Kelman-Poto triple. Blair free throws a minute later and then a Kelman-Poto layup pushed the lead out to a match-high 21 points. From there, the Swish could never get within 18 points, as the Breeze kept responding and had it as much as 24 points at one stage, with the final triple at the 25-second mark of the last term ending the match with a 23-point victory, 88-65.

Despite the large margin on the scoreboard, there was not a great deal to separate the teams with the Breeze ahead marginally in rebounds (46-45), assists (19-16), steals (15-12) and second chance points (12-9). In what has become a broken record all season, the most accurate side got up, with the Breeze hitting 45 per cent of their shots from the field, including 54 per cent from two-point range, compared to the Swish’s 34 per cent in both. The Swish also had six more turnovers (26-20) which proved costly.

Blair was the standout shooter for the Breeze, hitting 19 points at 66 per cent efficiency, including 100 per cent from inside the arc, while picking up four assists and two rebounds. Kelman-Poto hit two of her three chances from outside the arc for 14 points and six rebounds, while Tini (10 points, three rebounds) and Fotu (11 points, five assists and two steals) also ensured there were plenty of points flowing from the bench. Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu might have only added four points in the match, but was crucial off the boards with 11 to accompany her two steaks, while Jillings had seven rebounds with eight points and two assists.

For the Swish, Vaofusi tried hard throughout the match, hitting a team-high 18 points, as well as five rebounds and five steals across 26 minutes, while Whippy (12 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four steals) led from the front in a double-double performance. Unfortunately that also included eight turnovers, but Lokotui had double-figure points as well with 11, along wiht eight rebounds and three assists. Coming off the bench, Selby-Rickit (five points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks) and Lilly Taulelei (eight points, five rebounds) both provided a presence off the boards.

Tomorrow night the Breeze will lock horns with Otago Gold Rush in a bid to go back-to-back and match Auckland Dream in their strong start, while the Swish become the first side with a 1-1 record and will now rest up until Friday, when they take on the Dream.

Picture: Photosport

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