IT was not always a Breeze, but there is little doubting that this year’s New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 18IN18 premiers deserved the title, going through the condensed season undefeated. Harbour Breeze won all five regular season matches – two more than their nearest rivals – and then made no mistake in finals, finishing off the campaign with a controlling 70-59 triumph over Waikato Wizards.
From the get-go it was clear the favourites were up for the game, as Jazzmyne Kailahi-Fulu hit a jumper 14 seconds into the contest. While Jayzekee Waihi responded for the Wizards 20 seconds later, it would be the only basket in the first six minutes for the Wizards as the Breeze took control. Brooke Blair and Ashleigh Kelman-Poto continued their remarkable form this season adding three points apiece and the lead was already out to six just 1:41 into the match.
It would not be until there was 3:53 on the clock that the Wizards would score again – through a classy step back jumper from Arielle Parai – as the lead had got out to 11 points by that stage. Kelman-Poto was running hot in the term as everything she touched turned to gold, and when Gabriella Fotu nailed her jumper with 1:46 on the clock – to be the final score of the quarter – the Breeze were up by 12 and already looking home.
The Wizards started the second term promisingly enough, as Makayla Daysh hit one of two free throws, and Matangiroa Flavell made back-to-back layups as Blair hit one of two three-pointers for the Breeze. Another few minutes without too much scoring was eventually halted by Kayla Manuirirangi and Parai both hitting their shots and drawing the Wizards within eight. That did not last long though, as Tiarna Clarke responded with five consecutive points, though the work of Kelman-Poto to steal and assist was impressive.
Manuirirangi was having some sort of term by getting to the charity stripe, but for every point she manufactured for the Wizards, the Breeze had an answer. The next time it was Zara Jillings who sank a triple, and the lead was out to 14 points with less than two minutes in the half. It got out to as much as 15 at one stage, but some late free throws from Daysh and Paewai helped the Wizards cut the deficit to 12 by the half-time buzzer.
As she had at the start of the first half, Kailahi-Fulu was quick on the board, and she had her side’s first four points either side of Esra McGoldrick‘s layup. The pair were trading baskets, and soon Manuirirangi got involved with a couple herself, and along with Flavell’s three-point jumper, the lead had been cut from 14 to seven in less than 90 seconds.
The Wizards were coming, but Clarke was awake to that, ending the run midway through the term with a layup, then Olivia Bell secured one herself, and finished with the And-One chance. As Kelman-Poto got back into the action, the lead again stretched out to 13, and while the likes of Parai and Daysh continued to press, the Breeze continued to control momentum. The lead got out to 15 points in favour of the Breeze, but scoring the last four points of the term, the Wizards had actually won the term and brought it back to 11.
Back-to-back baskets to Daysh early in the fourth had some wondering if there was life in a comeback as the margin went back to seven. It got as little as three with six minutes on the clock as McGoldrick’s hot form in the second half continued. The Breeze momentum had come to a grinding halt, and they had only scored one basket in the first four minutes of the final term.
Yet again it was Kelman-Poto and Clarke who stepped up at the opportune time to give their side some breathing space, as the pair piled on the next six points. Manuirirangi added five more points to her total to ensure her side remained in the contest, but it would be the last scores for the Wizards as Clarke (three) and Blair (two) rounded out the match, and the season with the last 1:42 consisting of some missed opportunities, but ultimately the best side won on the night, and for the season.
Harbour Breeze were slick on the defence, dominating the steals (14-6) and making the most of some poor turnovers from the Wizards. Waikato had 27 turnovers to 15, and the Breeze made them pay, scoring almost half of their score (32 points) from turnovers, to the Wizards’ six. The Wizards had more rebounds (53-44), but the Breeze collected more assists (14-12) and had more second chance points (13-9) and contribution off the bench (22-10), also hitting 40 per cent of their three-point chances.
Kelman-Poto was a standout for the winners, racking up a double-double of 18 points, 14 rebounds, six steals, three assists and one block without a turnover on the night. Clarke came off the bench for 16 points, five assists and three steals, while Blair managed the 10 points – though inaccurate at 4-17 from the field – as well as four rebounds, three assists and a steal. Kailahi-Fulu (eight points, nine rebounds) was impressive off the boards for the winners, while Fotu (seven points) also shared in the points.
For the Wizards, Manuirirangi was the highest points scorer, hitting 15, as well as two assists, but also had six turnovers. McGoldrick finished with a double-double herself of 11 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, while Daysh came close thanks to 10 points and nine rebounds. Flavell (seven points, dive rebounds) and Waihi (six points, four rebounds were also productive, while Parai starred coming off the bench, contributing seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.
With the season done and dusted, both teams will be pleased with the performances they put in throughout the season and will begin the planning for a hopefully more normal, 2021 season.