Tag: Francis Mulvihill

2021 NZNBL Round 2 preview: Top two sides do battle in Friday night blockbuster

THE top two sides will lock horns in a massive Friday night blockbuster clash in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), with a number of undefeated matches, as well as winless head-to-heads set to shake up the ladder at the conclusion of Round 2.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS vs. FRANKLIN BULLS
Thursday, May 6 @ 7:30pm
TSB Stadium

In their first home game of the season, Taranaki Mountainairs will be hoping to break their back-to-back losses from Round 1 against the 1-1 Franklin Bulls. After dropping their opening game, the Bulls bounced back to win their second encounter, and sit in sixth with an almost identical points for and points against column, and will be keen to win for Aaron Bailey-Nowell‘s 300th NZNBL game. Marcel Jones has started off as one would expect for the Airs, averaging 17.5 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, teaming up well with shooter Francis Mulvihill (10.5 points, 4.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals). The pair are the only players to average double-figure points after two matches, with Franklin Bulls by comparison having five. Josh Selby has proven to be one of the most prolific shooters in the competition, dropping 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 3.0 steals, whilst in his only match in Round 1, Zan Waterman managed 25 points and 14 rebounds. Joseph Nunag (17.0 points, 2.5 assists) and Denhym Brooks (12 points, four rebounds) are the other key scorers for the Bulls, and they will be favourites to win this clash.

WELLINGTON SAINTS vs. SOUTHLAND SHARKS
Friday, May 7 @ 7:30pm
TSB Bank Arena

A top of the table clash between two undefeated sides is set to light up TSB Bank Arena on Friday night, with the Wellington Saints and Southland Sharks making the perfect starts to their 2021 campaigns after missing the 2020 season. The Saints are the most successful team in the competition’s history, and they have started off on fire, with a points differential of 43. The Sharks are the next best side with a lower scoring output, but also conceding less to be plus-21 from their Round 1 clashes. Dion Prewster has been the top player in the NZNBL to start the season, earning two Player of the Match awards for his 31 points, five rebounds, 4.5 assists and two steals per game. Kerwin Roach (18.5 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 2.5 steals) and Romaro Gill (11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) have also started the season in strong form. For the Sharks, they have a trio of dominant players off the boards who can also shoot, with Josh Cunningham (14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds), Dom Kelman-Poto (11.0 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Toby Gillooly (12.5 points, 7.0 rebounds) likely to stretch the Saints close to the basket.

CANTERBURY RAMS vs. MANAWATU JETS
Friday, May 7 @ 7:30pm
Cowles Stadium

A battle between two winless sides is the opposite Friday night clash, as the seventh placed Jets take on the last placed Rams. The Jets have come close and are only minus 10 for the points differential thus far, whilst the Rams have started off the season like they did last season – before charging up in finals – with a minus-35 points differential and sitting on the bottom. Quintin Bailey (16.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists) has shared the top points-scorer nod with import Deshon Taylor (16.5 points, 5.5 assists, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals). The other two players to have impacted the scoreboard across both games are Ben Constable (11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds) and EJ Singler (11.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists). The Jets have had some prominent scorers, but not a lot from their depth, as Daishon Knight (26.5 points, 3.5 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.0 rebounds) has been impressive, shooting at 69.7 per cent from the field. Jayden Bezzant has been a deadeye himself with 22.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists with a 66.7 per cent clip, while Shane Temara (17.0 points, 12.0 points) and DeAndre Daniels (13.5 points, 10.0 rebounds) are averaging double-doubles. The Jets have the top-end talent to be favourites in this encounter.

FRANKLIN BULLS vs. NELSON GIANTS
Saturday, May 8 @ 7:30pm
Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre

Coming back for their second game of the weekend, the Franklin Bulls could build some momentum in Round 2 if they can string back-to-back victories against winless sides. The Bulls’ second match comes on Saturday night at home up against Nelson Giants, with the Giants relying a lot on import Donte Ingram in game one. The Giants suffered a 19-point loss last week, and Ingram was the only scorer in double-digits with 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Sam Dempster (seven points, nine rebounds) helped off the boards, while Hunter Hale (eight points, six rebounds and three assists) did a bit of everything. It will be a tough ask for the Giants, but it was only one game, so they will be looking for a better effort here.

OTAGO NUGGETS vs. MANAWATU JETS
Saturday, May 8 @ 7:30pm
Edgar Centre

Having clashed with the Rams on Friday night, the Jets then face reigning premiers Otago Nuggets on Saturday night. The 2020 NZNBL Grand Final rematch will see the sides come in with no more than two wins between them, though the Nuggets looked impressive in their second game out. As mentioned above, the Jets have some serious top-end talent, but the Nuggets can match them in that department. They have only has three players score more than three points per game in the opening two matches, as Isaiah Moss (10 points, three rebounds), Sam Timmins (nine points, 4.5 rebounds) and Josh Aitcheson (seven points, 2.5 rebounds) the main focal points. They will need to share the load against a high-scoring Jets outfit.

HAWKE’S BAY HAWKS vs. SOUTHLAND SHARKS
Saturday, May 8 @ 7:30pm
Pettigrew Green Arena

It will be Southland Shark’s turn to do the double-up in what is a tough weekend for them against two other undefeated sides. With the premiership favourites Wellington Saints the Friday night clash, the Sharks then turn their attention to the fourth placed Hawke’s Bay Hawks on Saturday night. The Hawks have only played the one game, but their start power certainly fired, with Devondrick Walker having a night out with 26 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Hyrum Harris marked his return to the Hawks in style with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Jonathan Janssen (12 points, nine rebounds) and Ethan Rusbatch (10 points, six rebounds) were also prolific off the boards, and the Hawks will really worry the Sharks in this Round 2 contest.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES vs. NELSON GIANTS
Sunday, May 9 @ 5:00pm
Eventfinda Stadium

The last undefeated side in Auckland Huskies host the final game of the NZNBL Round 2 up against the Nelson Giants who will be coming off a clash against Franklin Bulls the night before. The standalone Sunday evening game will be favoured for the Huskies who have ticked off both challenges in Round 1, and will be looking to take down the Giants in this one. Jeremy Kendle has been running hot in the league, putting up 31 points, 5.5 assists and five rebounds per game as one of the most dominant shooters thus far. Teenage star Dontae Nance made a statement in Round 1 with 22 points and four rebounds, while Brooke Ruscoe (15.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists) and Nick Barrow (11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists) also impressive in the opening round of action.

Picture credit: PhotosportNZ via NZNBL

Cunningham’s jumper saves Sharks in thriller with Airs

A TWO-point jump shot from Josh Cunningham in the dying seconds has saved Southland Sharks from surrendering a 13-point half-time lead, just getting past a determined Taranaki Mountainairs by that exact jump shot, 78-76. The Sharks dominated the opening term to race out to a 12-point lead, and held the 13-point advantage at the main break, before the Airs hit back. Over the next two quarters, the visitors piled on 42 points to 31 to race back into contention, even levelling the scores with 12 seconds on the clock, before Cunningham hit the winning shot with seven seconds to go.

The Sharks took control from the first tip-off, scoring the first five points through Dom Kelman-Poto (two) and Courtney Belger (three), while the Airs missed their first three long-range attempts before Tai Wynyard struck true from inside the arc. It was not long before Brayden Inger made his presence felt, worrying the Airs’ defence and getting to the line. His two successful free throws in the final few minutes put the lead out to 19-9, and whilst Marcel Jones did get a basket back, the Sharks secured the last four points for a 23-11 first term lead.

The game was much more even after quarter time, as the Sharks got out to a 15-point lead, but Jones continued to be a problem, and for each of the home team’s baskets, the Airs responded with five different players scoring midway through the term. Jones and Francis Mulvihill added five consecutive points to drag the deficit back to within 10, but Toby Gillooly and Kelman-Poto quickly stretched that out again, with only a Jones triple in the final seven seconds making it a 13-point half-time deficit.

Southland started the third like they had the first half, scoring the first seven points of the match to race out to a game-high 20-point lead. It looked like it might end up a blowout, but a timeout when the Airs were down by 18 points with five minutes on the clock changed things. Led by Haize Walker, and cameos from Wynyard and Nelson Kirksey, the Airs scored 13 consecutive points and with a 61-54 scoreline at the final break, it was well and truly game on.

The Airs got within five when Walker nailed back-to-back free throws, but a run of five consecutive points for the Sharks pushed the lead back out to 10. The largest margin of the final term was 12, when Alonzo Burton nailed a triple with 6:15 on the clock and the score read 71-59. Six straight points saw that lead halved until Cunningham stepped up. He delivered with the layup as well as the And-One chance, and the Sharks were out to a nine-point lead with 3:41 on the clock.

Then came the Airs. Wynyard quickly responded with a turnaround jump shot, and when Jones nailed a triple with 89 seconds on the clock, the deficit was just five points. Belger (twice) and Burton both missed chances in the final minute, and when Calin Davison successfully delivered off the alley-oop, it was three points the difference and all of a sudden, the tension in the building was sky high. Gillooly stretched it out to a two-play game with only one of two free throws with 17 seconds on the clock, and Jones returned to the action to hit a jump shot with 13 seconds left. He unluckily missed the And-One chance off the foul, but when Wynyard scooped up the offensive rebounds and hit the jumper, scores were level with 12 seconds on the clock.

In a change up, Jones was subbed out with Walker subbed back in, only for Cunningham to be the hero with seven seconds on the clock. His jumper handed the Sharks the lead, and whilst Jones was quickly brought back on for Kirksey and chosen as the man to try and win the game from long-range, his shot missed and the buzzer sounded with the Sharks victorious, 78-76.

In the end, the Sharks were not as accurate as they could have been – shooting at 34 to 43 per cent from the field, but their work in winning the ball back – 14 steals to two – was phenomenal, whilst the Airs wasted possession with 18 turnovers to eight. The Sharks also punished the Airs for their turnovers, delivering 24 points to 10, though the visitors won the rebounds (51-47) and had six more points in the paint (44-38).

Cunningham was named man of the match thanks to his game-winner and the highest points for the Sharks, picking up 18, as well as eight rebounds and two steals. He was well supported by Burton (15 points – three of seven from long-range – four rebounds, three assists and two steals), Gillooly (13 points, 11 rebounds and two assists) and Kelman-Poto (11 points, eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and two blocks).

For the Airs, Jones lived up to his double-double ability with 23 points and 10 rebounds, as well as six assists and a block. Walker finished with 15 points, five rebounds and four assists, hitting four of eight from three-point range, while Wynyard (11 points, nine rebounds and two assists) and Mulvihill (10 points, six rebounds and five assists). Kirksey was also prominent off the bench with seven points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes on court.

The Airs take on Otago Nuggets tomorrow night in a quick turnaround, while the Sharks will have a break until May 7 when they lock horns with the Wellington Saints.

Picture credit: NZNBL

2021 NZNBL Round 1b preview: Airs, Rams and Jets enter competition

AFTER three standalone matches on individual nights last weekend, Round 1 continues this weekend with the three winners from those matches coming up against the three sides yet to play – Taranaki Mountainairs, Canterbury Rams and Manawatu Jets – in a massive weekend of New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) action.

SOUTHLAND SHARKS vs. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS
Thursday, April 29 @ 7:30pm
ILT Stadium Southland

Taranaki Mountainairs enter the 2021 NZNBL season with a Thursday night encounter against the Southland sharks. The Sharks passed the first test against Nelson Giants last week with a dominant 43-28 second half to scoot away with a 19-point victory. They will be tested here though, with a more experienced Airs outfit featuring Marcel Jones and Aaron Bailey-Nowell who showed just how much damage they could do last year, and will be keen to back it up this season. Francis Mulvihill was a rising talent and Tai Wynyard is always a player to keep an eye on, so the Sharks will need to be wary of what the opposition could do, particularly Jones who is prone to double-doubles. What was impressive about the Sharks was the evenness of scoring, with six players scoring double-figure points. Led by Josh Cunningham (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Dom Kelman-Poto (11 points, seven rebounds), the side proved too good for the Giants thanks to their accurate shooting, including 52, 38 and 93 per cent from the two-point, three-point and free throw ranges. The one area that might be a concern is the rebounding with the duo picking up 18 of the team’s 39 rebounds, though the Sharks did use the ball well, with Brayden Inger picking up four assists.

WELLINGTON SAINTS vs. CANTERBURY RAMS
Friday, April 30 @ 7:30pm
TSB Bank Arena

In the second of three straight matches between sides in their first matchup for the season and teams contesting their second games, Wellington Saints host the fresh Canterbury Rams. The Saints were able to take care of business in a comprehensive win over Otago Nuggets on opening night, posting a 95-73 victory on the back of a dominant first three quarters. Dion Prewster was phenomenal in the performance of the opening weekend, racking up 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a huge effort, whilst Kevin Roach Jr had the 19 points, four steals, three rebounds and two assists. Otherwise the Saints had plenty of contributors with four players picking up five or more rebounds in an even performance, and the likes of Taane Samuel and Tohi Smith-Milner almost getting to double-figure points with nine apiece. The Rams will go in with their reliable set up, led by Perth Wildcats development player Taylor Britt who lit up the NZNBL last season. The likes of Alex Talma, Sam Smith and Jack Exeter will be ones to watch, though Jack Salt is the big man set to make his long-awaited return to the competition.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES vs. MANAWATU JETS
Friday, April 30 @ 7:30pm
Eventfinda Stadium

It might not have been deliberately orchestrated, but the Auckland Huskies are the third straight winner from the opening weekend to face a side coming into the league for the first match this weekend. The Huskies won a thriller over Franklin Bulls, coming from behind to storm to victory in the last term and get up, 99-96. The win came off the back of 32 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals from Jeremy Kendle, as Nicholas Barrow and Brook Ruscoe-Taiaroa almost picked up double-doubles thanks to 17 points piece and nine and eight rebounds respectively. Even Dontae Nance had 31 minutes off the bench for 18 points, four rebounds and three assists, in an even spread across the four players. The Jets have a bit of unknown about them, with some young players coming through, though Jayden Bezzant stood out in 2020 and will be one to watch this season, while DeAndre Daniels and Daishon Knight are others on the list. Add in the two Temara‘s in Shane and Troy, and the three-point shooting machine of Nikau McCullough, and the Jets have some nice pieces for the 2021 season.

OTAGO NUGGETS vs. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS
Saturday, May 1 @ 7:30pm
Edgar Centre

The Airs enter their second match on Saturday night up against the Otago Nuggets who will be keen to bounce back from the 22-point loss to the Wellington Saints. From the Nuggets’ perspective, there was still plenty to like, with a trio of players really standing out in this game. Sam Timmins led the way with 18 points and nine rebounds, whilst both Isaiah Moss (20 points, six rebounds) and Josh Aicheson (14 points, five rebounds and three assists) put in the work. Every player on the team scored at least one point as the Nuggets showed great depth, but it would not be enough to roll the Saints. The Airs will be keen to try and quell them in this contest.

FRANKLIN BULLS vs. MANAWATU JETS
Saturday, May 1 @ 7:30pm
Franklin Pool & Leisure Centre

The Manawatu Jets will double-up over the weekend to travel to Franklin where the Jets will face a Bulls side ready for revenge. Franklin came agonisingly close to victory in the first match, going down to the Huskies with a fadeout last term to lose by three points, 96-99. Josh Selby stood out with 26 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Denhym Brooke (16 points, six rebounds) and Jaylen Gerrand (18 points, three rebounds) also stood tall as starts. Off the bench, Joseph Nunag hit up 14 points and three assists in 23 minutes on court to provide some valuable time in rotation.

Other double-ups for the round:

HAWKE’S BAY HAWKS vs. CANTERBURY RAMS
Sunday, May 2 @ 3:00pm
Pettigrew Green Arena

Picture credit: NZNBL

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #10 – Season Tip-Off and Opener

TO begin this edition of Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments, we look back at the season opener between the Taranaki Airs and Nelson Giants and the steps taken to get the NZNBL season underway, in a year filled with unpredictability.

For our full match report between the Airs and Giants – Click HERE

With the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world by storm the NZNBL season did not look likely to happen, however New Zealand’s swift response to the outbreak enabled them to eradicate cases and regain some form of normalcy on the the sports front.

The league’s season opener could not have been more of a success, as both sides from Taranaki and Nelson arrived at Trusts Arena with a fire in the belly and an eagerness to get out on the floor. Before too long, the opening tip was conducted, and the 2020 season was off and running.

While both sides lacked accuracy in most facets of the early stages of the contest in an adrenaline filled building, Airs bigman Tai Wynyard converted on a layup around the rim to not only set the game in motion, but the rest of the league as well, putting the first points on the board for this year’s NZNBL.

As neither team could separate from one another after 10 minutes, in what was a tit-for-tat opening quarter, the scoring prowess of eventual All-Star Five selectee and league leader in points and assists, Derone Raukawa came into effect.

Capping off 30-23 second quarter, Raukawa alongside teammates Francis Mulvihill and Carlin Davison were able to keep themselves in the driver’s seat with a six-point lead heading into the main break.

Following the second intermission, onlookers at the season-opener saw first-hand what the second half of the Airs’ duo was capable of, as Marcel Jones, the eventual leader in rebounds across the competition, proved why Doug Courtney selected him in his squad on Draft Night collecting a stockpile of offensive and defensive rebounds.

Meanwhile, Shane Temara proved why he would become one of Taranaki’s most prolific role-players as the Airs continued their good play extending their lead to double digits with a quarter to play.

Despite Nelson’s best efforts in the fourth thanks mostly to Thomas Ingham and Tysxun Aiolupotoea, the Airs proved to be too strong in their initial matchup of the fixture in a relatively even fourth quarter as Taranaki earned the 112-96 victory.

Raukawa recorded the first of many Man of the Match honours with a 28-point and 10-assist night, as Jones fell three assists short of a triple-double in what was an exemplary start to an exceptional season with 13 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Whereas for the Giants, it was Nicolas Trathen with a game-high 25 points, while Aiolupotoea and Ingham combined for 53 points between them.

The free-flowing contest the game would become set the tone for an entertaining and meaningful season for the seven teams that participated in the NZNBL, as well as New Zealand basketball as a whole. Therefore, it fits in handsomely at the number 10 slot in Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments of the 2020 NZNBL season.

Sal’s NBL Finals night preview: Nuggets v Rams and Jets v Airs

THREE teams down and four remain in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Finals Series after the first two nights of post-season action. Last placed Canterbury Rams survived a challenge from Nelson Giants on night one and came from behind to put away Auckland Huskies with an inspired third term last night. Taranaki Mountainairs were able to hold off Franklin Bulls in the other elimination final yesterday to make it through to the semis. Now the Rams take on top of the table Otago Nuggets, and the Airs face up against Manawatu Jets.

Otago Nuggets vs. Canterbury Rams

Not many people would have seen this as a matchup for the semi-finals, but the last placed Canterbury Rams have made it through to the penultimate round to take on the Otago Nuggets. The winner progresses through to the grand final and the loser bows out for 2020. Will the Nuggets live up to their top billing at the end of the home and away season? Or will the Rams’ fairytale run from last to the title continue?

PAST MATCHES:

Canterbury Rams 22 | 20 | 12 | 23 (77)
Otago Nuggets 28 | 28 | 9 | 22 (87)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Canterbury Rams 14 | 13 | 20 | 27 (74)
Otago Nuggets 13 | 14 | 26 | 22 (75)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 17.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 2.5 steals
Kane Keil (Nuggets) 12.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 steals
Josh Aitcheson (Nuggets) 10.5 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Jarrod Kenny (Nuggets) 7.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 0.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 16.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Sam Smith (Rams) 17.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Thomas Webley (Rams) 13.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.5 steals
Alex Talma (Rams) 12.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Jordan Ngatai (Nuggets) 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.5 steals
Taylor Britt (Rams) 20 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Nuggets must ensure the young Rams do not have a purple patch in which they can pile on the scores quickly. The last two nights Canterbury has dug deep after facing a deficit and piled on runs to hit the front and never lose it. The likes of Jordan Ngatai and Kane Keil need to be on their game, whilst the two most important people could be Jordan Hunt and Jarrod Kenny. The former needs to win the head-to-head over Thomas Webley after Webley’s match-winning performance last night, and he has the strength, but will need to avoid his opponent using his athleticism to get to the basket. Kenny won Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, and he needs to hassle his opponent whether it be Taylor Britt or Reuben Te Rangi and make sure they have an off night, whilst trying to hurt them the other way with some long-range bombs.

The last two night previews have been talking about the stars in Britt and Te Rangi, but boy did the Rams really come of age against the Huskies and look like genuine title contenders. Just as Auckland would guard one hot-handed scorer, another would pop up. Webley played his best game of the year when it counted, while Sam Smith took over Te Rangi’s scoring duties and keeping in mind the Rams built a lead in the third erm with Te Rangi and and Britt combining for just 11 points at one stage. Alex Talma also missed last night and could provide much height on the glass, but then again, do the Rams need him? As the Nuggets are a little smaller than the Huskies and more spread in their shooters. They have to limit Ngatai’s influence though as he is the star on court who can put on a one-man show.

WHO WINS?

What a clash this shapes up to be. Otago Nuggets have to be the pick given they finished first, but Canterbury Rams are running on a high right now and look like they could beat anyone on court. They have to perform at their best for longer to knock off the league’s best side this season, but anything is possible in this Finals Series.

Manawatu Jets vs. Taranaki Mountainairs

In a huge second semi-final, the Manawatu Jets are looking to bounce back from their qualifying final loss to the Nuggets with a win over Taranaki Mountainairs. The Airs knocked off Franklin Bulls last night and were effectively equal second with the Jets and Huskies despite finishing fourth. These two teams are the league’s highest scoring teams, and looking at their past two encounters, expect it to go a similar way, with the winner reaching triple-figures if not both sides.

PAST MATCHES:

Manawatu Jets 22 | 27 | 39 | 14 (102)
Taranaki Airs 23 | 28 | 23 | 19 (93)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS …]

Manawatu Jets 22 | 32 | 31 | 33 (118)
Taranaki Airs 25 | 23 | 32 | 23 (103)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

TOP PERFORMERS – HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Hyrum Harris (Jets)** 24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 steals, 2 blocks
Taane Samuel (Jets) 23.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Jayden Bezzant (Jets) 18.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals
Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 27.0 points, 4.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists, 1.5 steals
Marcel Jones (Airs) 20.0 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.0 blocks
Shane Temara (Airs) 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists

** Only played one game

TOP PERFORMERS – SEASON:

Tom Vodanovich (Jets) 21.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.9 steals
Derone Raukawa (Airs) 23.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.4 steals

WHAT DOES EACH TEAM NEED TO DO TO WIN?

The Jets will be keen to see the return of Tom Vodanovich for this clash after missing the Otago Nuggets loss. Despite being this season’s MVP and a notorious high scorer, Vodanovich has not been able to punish the Airs the same way he has other sides, scoring 17 points in both matches and only having a real impact off the boards in the first encounter with 14 rebounds. The load has been shared around and realistically they need to continue to do that because unpredictability is the best key to victory. Hyrum Harris is a terrific facilitator, but he might need to score more if Vodanovich is still sore or having a down game, while Taane Samuel could be the wildcard in the pack, being the best performing player for Manawatu across the two games. They need to match Marcel Jones off the boards and try and limit Derone Raukawa as much as possible.

The Airs might have gone down in the past two encounters, but would fancy themselves here if they can get off the chain. They have a lot of underrated players, and bench players who can come off and have spurts of impact, whereas the Jets have such a strong starting five that they can get the majority of their points from them. Raukawa and Jones are hard to stop, but it will need to be the next group such as Shane Temara – who is almost averaging a double-double against the Jets – as well as Ken Tuffin, Mitch Dance and Francis Mulvihill who really need stand up and provide support to the All-Star duo. It will also be important to try and read Harris and his passes to limit the scoring power of the Jets’ bigs, particularly Vodanovich.

WHO WINS?

The two highest scoring sides are set to put on a real show. Both sides have elite talents who can shoot or share the ball around, with strong rebounding and assist numbers across the board. They are both also more than capable defensively with some huge steal numbers, but the Jets will start as favourites in this one. With two wins from two games thus far, Manawatu need to keep doing what they have done in the past, but you cannot discount the Airs who at their best are a quality lineup.

Bulls charge through Taranaki as Airs fall out of top two race

TARANAKI Mountainairs’ bid to finish within the top two in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) standings is officially over, following their 92-65 drubbing by way of the Franklin Bulls, as Everard Bartlett’s perfect night from the field helped cement his side their seventh win of the campaign.

FRANKLIN BULLS 24 | 25 | 20 | 23 (92)
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 13 | 14 | 20 | 18 (65)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Prior to last night’s meeting, the Bulls had fallen to the Airs in their two previous encounters. How Franklin looked at getting lucky the third time round, was to limit the effect of the Airs’ role players, which also included the much anticipated matchup between Samuel Timmins and Tai Wynyard, as each big-man looked to gain the upper hand over the other.

The Bulls kicked the contest off with Bartlett’s three free-throws, but that remained the only event of the opening couple of minutes, as each side missed their initial five attempts from the field. Three minutes in however, Timmins’s layup got the ball rolling for the Bulls. The layup was further compounded by Isaac Davidson’s first three-pointer, capping off a 9-0 start to kick off the first quarter. As a result of Franklin’s fast-paced start, Taranaki repositioned their defence to a Zone setup, but to no avail, as every stop the Bulls made triggered a loud response from their bench. After both teams gradually became more accurate over the course of the quarter, it was the Bulls that tightened their sights from beyond the arc, knocking down four from deep to round out the opening 10 minutes and putting their necks ahead by 11 at the first intermission.

Leading in to the second quarter, 26-year-old Chris McIntosh continued the barrage from three-point range and continued to separate themselves from an Airs offence that struggled to find their target. A beautiful no-look assist by Davidson with a few minutes remaining in the half to Nicholas Barrow, prolonged the Bulls’ momentum. The Airs, they could not muster a response. Franklin’s target finder was working at maximum effort, shooting over 50 per cent since the fourth minute of the first quarter. Three-pointers from each of their stars in Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, cut into the deficit with less than a minute to go. But Bartlett struck a dagger into the arm of Taranaki with his second three of the contest and the fourth for the team in the second quarter alone, putting Franklin ahead by 22 at the midpoint of the ball game, 49-27.

The Bulls killed Taranaki on the boards, winning the rebounding contest in the first half 25 to 16, which translated into 10 second chance points as a result. Furthermore, Franklin’s bench proved their mettle in the opening 20 minutes, contributing 17 points to the team’s 49 in total at half-time, compared to the Airs’ four. This left Doug Courtney with a mild headache during the break, as he scrambled for second half solutions. For the majority of the third period, both sides managed to trade baskets, until Bartlett really started to put his stamp on the game. The 34-year-old’s back-to-back threes extended their lead to 29 points, as they continued to create separation for the Airs..

To make matters worse for the Airs, Nikau McCullough decided to join in on the shooting party, converting back-to-back threes as well. However, a small scoring run by Shane Temara, Francis Mulvihill and Jones brought the scoring difference back to 22 points with the final 10 minutes yet to unfold. The main headline at three-quarter time was easily the perfect shooting from Bartlett up to this point, going four from four from the field, nailing three threes to accompany those shots. Adding three free-throws, it would accumulate to 15 points through 18 minutes of court time over three quarters, putting him in good stead for man of the match honours with a quarter to go.

Raukawa began the fourth taking matters into his own hands, scoring eight quick points to begin the phase. However, it would take more than an individual to make a substantial dent in Franklin’s defensive blockade, as another Bartlett three stunted Taranaki’s fightback. The Airs would not make any more headway for the rest of the game, as Franklin held Taranaki to just 65 points at the conclusion of play, as Franklin would knock off a side which they had not beaten in two prior meetings by 27 points.

Bartlett continued his perfect form from the field, despite a quiet fourth quarter. He finished with 18 points off of five three-point shots. Alongside Bartlett, Isaac Davidson and Dominique Kelman-Poto added to the team’s cause significantly. Davidson amassed 17 points, five assists and four rebounds, while Kelman-Poto compiled 16 points, six boards and five assists.

Looking at the Airs’ performance, their 19 turnovers deflated their offensive intentions, nevertheless Raukawa and Jones remained the side’s constant. Raukawa still managed 19 points on 50 per cent shooting, whereas Jones fell one board short of another double-double, ending his night with 17 points and nine rebounds. In their final game of the regular season, the Airs’ loss last night solidifies their position outside the top two, as Franklin gifted Taranaki its sixth loss of the campaign. On the other hand, the Bulls go above .500 and improve their record to seven wins and six losses.

The outcome for Franklin ties themselves for fourth in the standings next to the Auckland Huskies, as they compete in their final game before the finals against the Canterbury Rams in Saturday’s opener.

Jets navigate Airs in explosively high-scoring contest

MANAWATU Jets powered on in the final term of their 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown contest with Taranaki Mountainairs to record a memorable 15-point win over the top of the table side. It was no surprise that the two highest scoring sides went toe-for-toe and surpassed the ton, with 11 individual scorers reaching double-figure totals. Leading the way was Hyrum Harris who returned to the court following injury, and the star made an impact with his first game back, producing a jaw-dropping triple-double in the victory.

MANAWATU JETS 22 | 32 | 21 | 33 (118)
TARANAKI MOUNTANAIRS 25 | 23 | 32 | 23 (103)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

It did not take long for the first and fourth placed sides to get going as Mr Double Double (Marcel Jones) dropped a jump shot and then was immediately countered by an Ashton McQueen bucket off a Harris assist. Whilst Harris looked a little rusty in his return game early – with a turnover and missed layup in the opening couple of minutes – it was good to have the Jets talent back on court. In the meantime though, Tai Wynyard and then Derone Raukawa skipped the ladder-leading Airs out to a lead with Raukawa’s triple and then one of two free throws handing the hairs an early 8-2 lead.

Harris scored his first basket of the contest with a nice layup four minutes in, and despite the Jets clawing to within three points, Taranaki got some air on its opposition with a couple of Jones free throws and a Mitchell Dance jump shot. Harris returned from a brief stint on the bench to immediately be a worry for the opposition, fouled off attempting a triple. He did not hurt the Airs as much as he could have, sinking just the one of three from the charity stripe. Nelson Kirksey soon drew his side within four, but that was matched by Jones dropping another triple 10 seconds later.

When Jones landed a handy hookshot with 93 seconds left on the clock in the first term, the Airs led by seven points. Then a quick flurry of points, including a Haize Walker layup in the final 10 seconds resulted in the Jets cutting the deficit to three points at the first break.

That three-point deficit was eroded in the first minute as a Harris jump shot from long-range levelled the scores. Wynyard found Shane Temara for a memorable Airs dunk in response, as Taranaki was forcing fouls off the opposition. Ken Tuffin scored his first points of the match a few minutes into the second term, as the Airs built a handy seven-point buffer with six minutes to play. Then the Jets came hard. Kirksey in particular decided enough was enough, dropping five points as his side scored 10 of the next 12 points.

Surprisingly, high volume scorer Tom Vodanovich only put up his first points of the contest with three and a half minutes left in the first half, while Raukawa was already cooking in what was building to be another sensational performance. The momentum had turned in the meantime with the Jets up by one following a pair of Jones free throws to cut the deficit back, only for the Jets to sink 14 of the next 20 points – including four triples – to blow out the margin to nine with a minute to play. Raukawa got a crucial long-range shot to drop to cut the half-time deficit to six, but the jets were here to play.

Both teams were going to hang around in the second half as they traded blows early with Harris and Taane Samuel putting up five consecutive points for the Jets to lead by nine just 90 seconds into the contest. It would be the Airs turn to go on a scoring rampage though, shooting the next 14 points, including five to Jones, four to Raukawa and a triple to Tuffin, for Taranaki to again regain control. A Jayden Bezzant steal off Tuffin proved crucial though, as he and Samuel scored six of the next eight points to pull within a point midway through the term.

After Jones completed a couple of free throws, Vodanovich tied the game with a triple off a Harris assist, and then despite Wynyard momentarily regaining the lead for the Airs, the Jets sank back-to-back baskets through Samuel and Harris. The long-range shooting of the Jets was proving the difference with Manawatu maintaining a small lead over Taranaki heading into the final break. Jones was still being a nuisance for the Jets, regularly set to the charity stripe and with 48 seconds to go, he drew his team within one. But the Jets scored the final four points of the game to head into the last term with a 85-80 lead and the stage was set for a thrilling finish.

Denhym Brooks was quick to drop a triple for the Airs and draw within two points in the opening minute of the game, but the Airs had the answers with McQueen and Vodanovich again extending the lead out to eight points a minute later. Each time Taranaki would draw closer, a Jets player – such as Kirksey – would drain a triple and undo the hard work the Airs had put together. Manawatu leader Tia Temata-Frost scored his basket at a crucial junction to go seven points clear, and soon Kirksey had another triple and the lead was into double-digits.

Back-to-back triples from the Jets thanks to Vodanovich and McQueen meant the Airs’ back-to-back two-pointers were not only countered but built upon, and when Vodanovich drained another long-range bomb with just over four minutes remaining in the contest, the lead was out to 13 points. Harris and Samuel all but sealed the game in the next minute with a combined five points buffering the advantage to 18, before a couple of free throws to Francis Mulvihill brought the Airs to the century with just under three minutes to play.

Mitchell Dance scored three of the last five points of the game, but it would not be enough as the Jets secured the 118-103 victory courtesy of a strong final term. In terms of team stats, the Jets shot at a much higher 67 to 52 per cent from the field, and drained 15 triples to seven – a third of their long-range shots going in. The Airs work from the charity stripe kept them in the contest (86 per cent accuracy), but the Jets scored 17 points to 11 from turnovers, and made good with 18-11 second chance opportunities. In particularly, scoring 31 points from 18 off the bench was impressive, though both teams only had the 11 turnovers each in what was a high quality game by two genuine Sal’s NBL Showdown contenders.

Harris was voted best-on in the Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award thanks to his remarkable triple-double of 24 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and two blocks, leading the way for the Jets. He was one of six players to notch up double-figure points with Samuel (22 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Kirksey (19 points, four rebounds, four assists and one steal) both having plenty of it. Vodanovich was by his standards quiet but still amassed the 17 points and six rebounds, while McQueen and Bezzant both had 12 points and three rebounds in the win.

For the Airs, Raukawa and Jones were the standout players. Raukawa helped himself to a double-double of 29 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and two steals, while Jones picked up 24 points and 10 rebounds. Temara also achieved a double-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds and two assists, while Tuffin was the other starter to record double-figure points with 11. Dance’s last three points of the game saw him too notch into double-figure points with an identical 11.

Heading into the final week, the now second-placed Jets take on Franklin Bulls on Tuesday, before matches against Otago Nuggets and Auckland Huskies to play the four other top five teams in consecutive matches to end the regular season. The Airs meet Nelson Giants on Wednesday before a clash with the Bulls on Thursday the last encounter ahead of finals, having the most break of any side ahead of the post-season series tipping off on Tuesday week.

2020 Sal’s NBL night preview July 16: Huskies v Airs and Rams v Nuggets

SAL’S National Basketball League (NBL) action sees the dangerous Auckland Huskies taking on the ladder-leading Taranaki Mountainairs, before the last placed Canterbury Rams hope to turn around their form against the Otago Nuggets tonight.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES vs. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS

The red-hot Taranaki Mountainairs take on the reformed Auckland Huskies in a match that is predicted to be quite the show to kick off some Thursday night action. The Airs have earnt the title as the team to beat if the form after 10 games is anything to go by, sitting a game clear of second with a comfortable 51 more points on the board than their nearest opposition. The Huskies might have the least points score – with a game less – but could well make their way level with fourth if they can win here, but more importantly, go two games clear of the bottom two sides.

Looking at the statistics, Taranaki is ahead in most areas. Their points per game sits at a mighty impressive 101.5 compared the Huskies’ 82.6, while their rebounds (48.9 to 44.7) and assists (19 to 16.1) are also higher. In terms of their accuracy, the Airs’ field goal percentage is almost 50 per cent at 48.7, well ahead of the Huskies’ 39.7, but that figure has been steadily improving after a shaky start to the season. From long range, the Huskies drop a third of their shots, just below the Airs at 37.5. One area where the Huskies clearly top the Airs is in the steals department, with an impressive 9.4 per game compared to 6.8, so Taranaki will need to be aware of Auckland’s pick-pocketing abilities.

Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa has been the prime thief for opposition players, averaging a league-high 3.6 steals per game. In the last game between the teams, Mauriohooho Le’Afa picked up two steals, but had 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists in a really promising performance. Five players notched up double figures on that day from the Huskies, as Leon Henry (18 points, 14 rebounds), Tohi Smith-Milner (16 points, six rebounds), Taine Murray (15 points, three rebounds and five assists) and Nate Wilson (15 points, six rebounds) all had big nights out.

It was a rare loss for the Airs, as they were blown away in the first half – particularly the second term – with the Huskies piling on 66 points to 44 to set up a 109-93 victory. The Airs had four players reach double figures, with Marcel Jones having a sensational game of 14 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and two steals, while Derone Raukawa went to town with the rock, notching up nine assists to accompany 19 points. Ken Tuffin (19 points, three rebounds) played his best game of the season, while his close friend Francis Mulvihill (11 points) also contributed on the scoreboard dropping three of six from long-range. The Airs should still start favourites in this one, but after their last match, the Huskies will head in very confident of toppling the top side again.

CANTERBURY RAMS vs. OTAGO NUGGETS

In the second game, two sides hoping to overcome losses will go at it with the Otago Nuggets still looking strong, but are at the midpoint of the season at 5-4 and keen to remain up with the top group and not slip to the chasing pack. A one-point heartbreaking loss to the top of the table Airs would hurt, but a second half comeback would have been promising for a side that has taken plenty before it to-date, including knocking off its opponent, Canterbury Rams a couple of weeks ago. If one is talking needing a win, then there is no team more desperate than the Rams, who have now dropped seven on the trot after three wins to start the season. One promising aspect is the fact that they have got closer and closer each match, losing by seven, five and then three points the last three outings. They could be really primed for a big match here.

Looking at the stats, it is a real mixed bag despite the Rams’ form, with the Nuggets ahead on points (94.3 to 89.4) and Assists (19.8 to 15.7) and well ahead in steals (11.1 to 6.3). Their ball-handing skills are on point and hard to stop, but Canterbury’s big men could have a say, as the Rams are ahead in rebounds with 44.1 to the Nuggets’ 40.2. Their field goal percentage is neck-and-neck with the Rams marginally ahead (46.5 to 45.9 per cent), though Otago is the superior two-point shooting side with 56.8 per cent accuracy to the Rams’ 49.6 per cent, whilst outside the arc, Canterbury is the side to watch (36.3 to 33.2 per cent).

In the last match between the teams, the Nuggets set up a 10-point win with a fast start to lead by six and then 14 at the first two breaks. Canterbury hit back in a low-scoring third term – where just 21 points were put on the board combined – and then won the final term by a point, but it would not be enough, going down, 77-87. Despite the loss, Taylor Britt was still productive with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Thomas Webley (14 points, nine rebounds) and Sam Smith (12 points seven rebounds and three assists) supported him well. Alex Talma (11 points, eight rebounds) and Ben Carlile-Smith (11 rebounds) were also strong off the boards in a massive 50-rebounds team game.

For the winning Nuggets, Jordan Ngatai finished with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in an all-round game, leading the way with Kane Keil who dropped four of nine from outside the arc to finish with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals. Richie Rodger (10 points, three rebounds) was the other player to reach double-figure points, as Jarrod Kenny had a team-high five assists. Otago head into this match as strong favourites, but with Reuben Te Rangi now in the side, the Rams have a bit more firepower and will be desperate to turn their losing streak around.

Final quarter thriller leaves Airs two games clear at top of the table

HIGH-octane offence combatted stringent defence, as Taranaki Mountainairs came out on top of the Otago Nuggets, 106-105 in one of the games of the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. For much of the game, both teams took care of the ball, but it was Taranaki that took home the win despite a fierce second half comeback from the Nuggets.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 32 | 29 | 22 | 23 (106)
OTAGO NUGGETS 21 | 28 | 27 | 29 (105)

[… FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The opening night of week four action rounded out with what was promised to be the game of the season so far between the first-placed Taranaki Mountainairs and the third-placed Otago Nuggets. It is fair to say that fans were made good on that promise, and then some.

The promise of plenty of offence was certainly delivered with 53 points being scored in the first quarter. The Nuggets won possession off the tip which resulted in a missed dunk opportunity for Jordan Hunt, one of many shots missed at the rim for Otago. Marcel Jones opened the scoring for the game with a silky post-hook, as the reply came straightaway from Josh Aitcheson with the corner three.

Jones would continue to show why he is one of the best players in the league as he was stealing defensively, facilitating the offence with multiple assists, and banking in threes, it all seemed to be going his way early. His activity was contagious for his team as Taranaki was doing it on both ends.

With the starters beginning to have a break, it was the unlikely performances of bench players Denhym Brooke of the Airs and Matthew Bardsley of the Nuggets who would turn super subs for the quarter. Brooke would go five for five from the floor and end the quarter with 12 points, while Bardsley would drop eight, keeping the Nuggets in the game.

A Francis Mulvihill splash would intervene his efforts as the lead extended to double digits for the Airs. Jordan Ngatai’s only three points for the half would close out the quarter to end 32-21. An evenly poised contest with offence the clear difference. Taranaki was shooting 60 per cent and had twice as many assists than Otago for the quarter as its static offence needed to get moving as the game progressed.

A Jarrod Kenny splash started the second quarter and set the tone for he and the Nuggets as they outworked the Airs early. Kenny looked to score aggressively inside and out and another triple from him prompted a reply from MVP race leader Derone Raukawa, who earned three points the old fashioned way.

To typify a slow scoring night, a Ngatai air ball preceded a big Brooke put back and-one from the weak side, while the offensive explosion began to settle as both teams started to sort themselves out defensively.

Though the Nuggets made in-roads to the early deficit they gave up, another Mulvihill splash pushed the lead out to 12. Backup forwards in Brooke and Zachary Easthope supported Jones and Tai Wynyard, however, it would be Mitchell Dance that would take over, scoring six down the stretch.

Despite new inclusion Aaron Roydhouse knocking down his first shot in the competition from downtown, the Airs would maintain their first quarter lead heading into half-time up 61-49. Though they only shot 10 per cent less from the field, some inconsistent defence from the Nuggets allowed 29 bench points and 38 points in the paint for Airs. Brooke (15 points) and Jones (11 points, six rebounds, five assists) were important for the Airs while Hunt (11 points) led the way for the Nuggets.

Kane Keil opened the second half with a big triple in a quarter that would see him score eight. Hunt’s physicality inside would lead to a couple of baskets as the lead was suddenly back down to five. Much like the start of the second quarter, a renewed energy surge struck the Nuggets, but they were still unable to string that big run together that would see them within a possession of the Airs.

Ngatai forced his way back into the game late in the quarter with a smooth spinning layup and a three-point play, however, Raukawa going coast to coast and a Shane Temara dunk kept the scores at 83-76 heading into the last break. You still could not help but feel the momentum was with the Nuggets as it seemed the Airs starters were starting to fatigue.

The final 10 minutes were some of the most exciting basketball the competition has seen so far. Some big blows either way held the margin until the Nuggets stars in Ngatai and Kenny took control, while Bardsley was so vital down the stretch with his athleticism and hustle all over the court.

Kenny found his way to the line multiple times, but it was free-throws from Hunt that tied the game at 98-apiece with just over two minutes left to play. It was the first time the scores were level since the score line read 0-0.

A go-ahead basket from Kenny was answered with the double-double machine Jones hitting a jumper to tie, as he went back to back with a pretty floater to give the Airs the lead with one minute to play. As he had done all game, Keil came up clutch with a much-needed triple before some Kenneth Tuffin free throws changed the lead again.

With thirty seconds left, who else was going to step up? That’s right, the super subs of the first half decided to end the flurry they began with Bardsley laying it in, and Brooke doing the same to make the game 106-105.

The Nuggets had no timeouts left and went to their star player Ngatai who had some scoring left in him. His baseline teardrop narrowly missed as time ran out on the loose ball, handing the Airs the narrow but well-deserved victory in a thriller.

Jones (26 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, three steals) and Raukawa (22 points, seven assists, 9/9 free-throws) put up another good performance as Brooke (17 points, seven rebounds) played big minutes off the bench. Temara’s (14 points, 12 rebounds) effort flew under the radar as Taranaki sit two games clear on top of the ladder. They face Auckland on Thursday and will be looking to continue their high-scoring winning ways.

Hunt (24 points, eight rebounds) and Kenny (20 points, eight assists) starred for the Nuggets as well-rounded games from Keil (20 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Bardsley (18 points, eight rebounds) almost pushed them over the line. Ngatai (11 points, 28 per cent shooting) was quieter than usual and will no doubt come out firing in their match against the Rams on Thursday.

2020 Sal’s NBL night preview July 14: Bulls v. Huskies and Mountainairs v. Nuggets

A TOP four clash is set to headline Week 4 of Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) with the Taranaki Mountainairs playing the Otago Nuggets in the second game of the night while the Huskies will be hoping to continue to bridge the gap between them and the top four with a win over the second placed Franklin Bulls.

FRANKLIN BULLS v. AUCKLAND HUSKIES

Currently sitting in second spot the Bulls will have to throw everything they have at the Huskies to keep them at bay and maintain their position inside the top four. Last time they met the Bulls prevailed, albeit by four points in what was a hard fought battle, meaning this rematch could definitely follow suit given the progression of both sides throughout the season. Although Auckland are coming in off a mere five points, they have strung together a couple of strong performances, finding some continuity on court.

The Bulls will take plenty of confidence from their last performance and come into the match having won four of their last five outings. Their ability to treasure possession and make the opposition pay is what they pride themselves on averaging 11.8 turnovers a game compared to the Huskies’ 14. In terms of accuracy the Bulls also have the upper hand going at 43 per cent field goal efficiency while the Huskies only manage 39.8 per cent. However from three point range both sides don a similar percentage with the Bulls slightly ahead at 32.6 compared to Auckland’s 31.6.

The Bulls and Huskies are also quite evenly poised when it comes to scoring averaging 82.6 and 82.1 per game respectively, showcasing just how much of a tight battle this match will be. With both sides even in terms of scoreboard output it could come down to rebound ability something the Huskies are renowned for. Auckland are one of the strongest teams in the leagues when it comes to rebounds amassing an average of 45.4 each game an area of the Bulls they will be hoping to exploit given they only manage 38.4 a game, the lowest in the competition.

It has been a more consistent effort from the Huskies in recent weeks however the pressure still solely lies on Izayah Mauriohooho LeAfa to do most of the heavy lifting 18.7 points a game, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds showcasing just how dominant he is across all facets of the game. Teammate Taine Murray has also enjoyed a recent run of hot form, finding the basket with ease averaging 17 points a game, while the influence of Leon Henry has not gone unnoticed for the Huskies with Henry imposing himself on the boards with a team high average of 11.7 rebounds and 11.3 points to average a double-double. Another threat for the Bulls is Tohi Smith-Milner with the bigman showcasing his range sinking 12.4 points a game.

For the Bulls they have no shortage of options when it comes to doing damage on the scoreboard but Isaac Davidson is the main points scorer sitting at an average of 18 points a game. Next in line when it comes to scoring potency is Dominique Kelman-Poto who averages 14.3 points while also being the leading rebounder in the team, collecting 7.1. Samuel Timmins is the only other player to average double figures with 12.9 points to his name and has proven to be strong off the boards with 5.6 rebounds a game.

Given just how dominant Mauriohooho Le’Afa can be when he gets going the Bulls will have to pull out all the stops if they are any chance to nullify his presence on the scoreboard. Expect a high intensity battle considering what is at stake for both teams when it comes to ladder positioning and a creating potential separation between the top four.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS v. OTAGO NUGGETS

The second game of the night will draw plenty of onlookers and attention. Locked in a battle of one versus three expect the Taranaki Airs to try and put the foot down to claim some ascendancy atop of the ladder. When they played earlier in the season the Airs got the job running out with a convincing 26 point win while the Nuggets simply struggled to generate their normal game play. Taranaki have won four of their last five games while the Nuggets have experienced a similar vein of form registering three wins from their past five matches.

Coming in on a three game winning streak Taranaki will be hoping to make the most of their momentum and rattle the Nuggets with their prolific scoring. Although no slouches themselves when it comes to scoreboard impact sitting third in the competition with an average of 93 points a game, the Airs are a class above sinking an average of 101 points a game credit to their explosiveness. Another major discrepancy between the two sides lies in the rebound column with the Airs strong off the backboard with 8.7 more than the Nuggets 48.9 compared to 40.1.

Not only do the Airs have the upper hand when it comes to scoring prowess but so too blocks with the competition ladder leaders recording 3.1 blocks a game, while the Nuggets manage 2.8 a game. However when it comes to turnovers the Airs can be quite costly often throwing ball away in transition with 15.1 per game. Conversely the Nuggets are cautious with ball in hand, looking to flick the ball around and not push the ball until something opens as shown through the side averaging the second lowest turnover rate in the competition with 13.6.

There is no denying that Derone Raukawa is the go to man for the Airs, able to find the basket with ease and ply his trade up and down the court averaging a team high 22.9 points. While his efforts on the scoreboard impress he is also crafty with ball in hand dishing off yet another team high 7.3 rebounds a game. Teammate Marcel Jones is just as influential for the Airs able to light up the scoreboard with an average of 20.3 points while his presence at the rim is just as impressive recording 15 rebounds a game to average a double-double. Shane Temara is another key figure for the Airs sinking 11.6 points a game while reeling in 5.4 rebounds. Kenneth Tuffin has been known to hit the scoreboard while Francis Mulvihill is an excitement machine with the youngster able to find the basket and dish off dimes left right and centre.

It will be up to bigman Jordan Ngatai to lead the way for the Nuggets once again with his influential presence often causing headaches for opposition teams. He leads the team in points and rebounds with 20.5 and 6.3 respectively.  While Ngatai is the most prolific the Nuggets have a wealth of other options such as Jarrod Kenny who has proven he can burst out of the blocks and dominate, sinking them from range with no problem at all. Kenny averages 11.1 points a game and is number one in the team for assists with 4.9. Jordan Hunt is a key play maker for the Nuggets with his drive to the basket sitting at 16.8 points a game and 6.3 rebounds while Josh Aitcheson registers in the top five for points scored, assists and rebounds with 10.1, 2.1 and 4.5 respectively showcasing just how well rounded he is.

Both sides possess very similar attributes however it will come down to whether or not the Nuggets can shut down the ease and freedom with which the Airs can hit the scoreboard that will be the true test. Looking to protect their spot on top of the ladder expect Taranaki to leave no stone unturned and make it two from two against Otago.