WAIKATO Wizards have booked a semi-final spot in this year’s New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 18IN18 competition following a dominant finish to their final match against Capital Swish. The two sides were level at half-time, but the Wizards – who needed a win to guarantee themselves a semi-final spot – piled on 45 points to 21 in a stunning second half to run away with the contest, winning 78-54 and leapfrogging both the Swish and Auckland Dream.
With a semi-final spot on the line, both teams were even across the first half, as Letava Whippy nailed her first two free throws for the opening points on the board for Capital Swish. In an immediate response, Kayla Manuirirangi hit a triple for her side to regain the lead, and the teams traded baskets over the first couple of minutes. Grace Simi Vaofusi and Matangiroa Flavell both produced impress jump shots, with reliable scorers Esra McGoldrick and Paris Lokotui also answering each other for the scores to be level midway through the term.
For every Wizards basket, the Swish answered and vice-versa. With 1:40 on the clock, Flavell nailed a three-point jump shot for the Wizards to go ahead, and Makayla Daysh scored one of two free throws in the final minute for a two-possession game. When the game looked to be winding down in the final 30 seconds, Grace Gordon hit an important step back jumper for the Swish and cut the quarter time deficit to just one with 24 seconds remaining.
Straight out of the blocks in the second term, Sariah Penese hit a triple for the Swish and they regained the lead. The game was busy with three-pointers in the first 12 minutes as Manuirirangi hit a three-point jumper of her own and the Wizards were back in front. The lead did not increase more than three points through the middle of the term, as Dalen Pilitati responded to another Manuirirangi jumper with a game-tying triple with 4:12 on the clock.
After the Wizards held the lead for most of the term, the Swish hit the front following four consecutive points from Jyordanna Davey and Whippy to move one point ahead with 2:35 remaining in the half. The teams again traded baskets, with the Wizards having a lot of late chances, and just as Alana Paewai put her side up by three with a long-range make, Davey answered with 26 seconds on the clock to tie the game at half-time.
Unlike the nail-biting first half, the second half was a complete counter contrast. The Wizards hit the front with a triple from Flavell after plenty of misses from both teams in the opening two minutes, only for Flavell’s three-pointer to be answered by Lokotui’s layup. Another dry spell over the next few minutes saw neither team able to capitalise, but then Daysh came onto court and made a layup and the following And-One chance, with Arielle Parai extending the Wizards’ advantage out to a game-high six points.
Vaofusi managed to cut it back to four with successful free throws six minutes into the term, and whilst the Swish were as close as two points with 1:45 on the clock, they could not seemingly hit the front. The final two baskets of the term went in favour of the Wizards with Jayzelee Waihi’s layup and Paewai’s triple putting it out to seven, before a single free throw from Lokotui with nine seconds on the clock reduced the Swish’s deficit to six at the final break.
Waikato Wizards used the momentum from the third term to storm away with the game in the final term as Waihi’s triple and a Zarya Poulava layup handing their side a double-digit lead for the first time in the game just a minute into the quarter. It triggered a dominant run of 13-straight points with Daysh scoring the last four of them and by the time she hit a jumper with 5:41 on the clock, the Wizards were out to a 19-point lead, 62-43 and it was game over.
To that point, the Swish had not scored, and in fact it took until 4:43 into the term for Davey to get to the basket with a layup, and by then the damage was done. Lilly Taulelei came on and hit some important points late, though the Wizards through Manuirirangi and Daysh did not stop pushing and the pair blew the lead way out to 26 points, with Lokotui’s final layup with 15 seconds on the clock putting the final Swish deficit at 24, and the Wizards booking a semi-final spot with a 78-54 victory.
The Wizards were just dominant across all areas, but the most telling stat was their ability to hurt the Swish on turnovers, scoring 33 points to 14 off the Swish’s 24-20 turnovers. The Wizards also smashed them in the rebounds (50-36), assists (15-8) and second chance points (18-7), whilst sitting at a higher percentage from the field (40 to 32 per cent), and nailing a whopping 10 triples to five.
Manuirirangi had a team-high 18 points, but also collected two rebounds, two assists and one steal. It was the work of Daysh that earned best-on honours, racking up 12 rebounds – eight offensive – to go with 16 points in a big effort. Waihi had 13 points, three rebounds, two assist sand two steals, whilst McGoldrick was not as effective from the field (one from nine for five points) but had nine rebounds, four steals, two assists and one block. Paewai’s contribution off the bench of 14 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals was impressive, while Poulava picked up nine rebounds – five offensive – as well as three assists and two steals in 14 minutes.
For the Swish, Whippy racked up 15 points, six rebounds and a steal, teaming up with Lokotui (10 points, five rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block) on the offensive end. Te Huinga Selby-Rickett missed all five field goal chances, but she did record nine rebounds as well as two steals and two blocks. Taulelei (three points, six rebounds) and Davey (eight points, three blocks) both provided some strong defensive pressure in the loss.
With one game remaining in the season, both teams will play finals, as the Wizards currently sit second and the Swish in fourth.