Tag: Kevin Braswell

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #2 – Huskies and Airs go the distance in OT

IF you just so happened to tune in to the opener of the NZNBL’s action on Thursday July 16 between the Auckland Huskies and the Taranaki Mountainairs, then you were privy to arguably the most thrilling contest of the entire campaign and number two amongst Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full match report between the Huskies and the Airs – Click HERE

Kevin Braswell’s side was certainly looking for nothing less than a win against an old foe in Taranaki, whom they upset in their first encounter to really shake up the league standings. A win for the Huskies once more, would bring their win-loss record back up to .500 for the first time since the start of the season.

Braswell noted pre-game the need to neutralise Taranaki’s two main threats, the one-two punch combination of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones, as well as the supplementary damage the Airs’ role-players could also inflict.

Nevertheless, it was a different combination that commenced business between the two sides, as Tohi Smith-Milner and Leon Henry both began what was a very impressive outing. Shortly after, Raukawa and Jones started off their nights with their initial baskets and the game was underway.

In a fast-paced three minutes that saw 18 points get put up on the board in that time, both teams got off to good shooting starts. Notably, Raukawa had his hands full with the fantastic play of Auckland’s point-guard Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa. Despite this, Raukawa still managed to collect 11 of the Huskies’ first 18 points, but following a late triple from Mauriohooho-Le’Afa bringing his total to 10, Auckland obtained a slim one-point lead at the end of the first period.

The second quarter took on a more casual persona, as scoring started to come at a higher premium. But a three pointer from Jones and six straight points from Shane Temara allowed Taranaki to have a firm grip on the game for the first time in the encounter and force a Huskies timeout. Coming out of the huddle, the Huskies quickly dismantled their deficit by capping off a lovely 9-0 run with a couple minutes to go in the first half. But again, Jones led another charge handing back the lead to the Airs going into half time, 47-44.

Given that Auckland had failed to complete their main objective in slowing down Raukawa and Jones, the Huskies looked to their long-range shooters to try and gain the upper hand in the second half. First up to the plate in this respect was rising youngster in Taine Murray who did not make his presence known until the closing stages of the third quarter and made Taranaki pay for their hand-down defence as a result. Coupled with Smith-Milner’s rebounding, the Huskies oozed confidence as they led by seven with a quarter to go.

Reuben Fitzgerald, who had proven himself a prominent participant in the opening three quarters, made his impact on the game late in the fourth, as both sides jostled for the driver’s seat, converting on an and-one. As both teams arrived at the final seconds of regulation tied at 83-83 apiece, the Airs found themselves with a chance to win it at the death. But after two missed attempts by Jones off of two second chance points opportunities and a missed buzzer-beater attempt from Raukawa outside the arc, fans had to wait five minutes longer, as the game went into overtime, the second time for the Airs.

The Airs struck first with a nicely facilitated layup and three by Jones, which was further compounded by a follow-up three from Raukawa, putting Taranaki up by as much as six. But the Huskies did not wither away, as Smith-Milner and Mauriohooho-Le’Afa brought the game back to a single possession ball game and after Murray converted on a reverse hanging layup with just over a minute and a half to play, the match was once again at a stalemate.

Free throws became the deciding factor in the dramatic end to the game, as numerous fouls from the Airs put Auckland into the bonus. In the final ten seconds of overtime, the Huskies shot six free throws converting on five of them, to put away a resilient Doug Courtney led squad and topple the top-of-the-table Airs for a second time in a row in an overtime thriller, 102-99.

Even though Jones (36 points and 17 rebounds) and Raukawa (28 points and eight assists) proved their dominance once again, Temara tried his best to help the duo get their side over the line with 15 points and eight boards of his own, but Auckland’s bigs were too productive to let that happen.

For the Huskies, Smith-Milner had himself a ball, as he amassed one of the few 20-20 games of the season (22 points and 21 rebounds), whereas Murray led the way in scoring with 28 points alongside six threes. Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Henry also proved instrumental collecting 21 points apiece, summing up a terrific performance from Auckland’s core.

In a game that had all the trademarks of a classic, it sits perfectly as a top two moment on Draft Central’s list, and perhaps the best game in all respects throughout the entire 2020 NZNBL season. One to remember.

Draft Central’s NZNBL Top 10 Moments: #6 – Auckland’s historic start against Nelson

THROUGHOUT the month and a half of basketball that we witnessed in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), there were an abundance of impressive quarters. However, there is one that stands out unmistakably.

Auckland’s opening quarter against the Nelson Giants sits at the pinnacle of the season’s most productive and efficient periods, and as a result waltzes into number six on Draft Central’s Top 10 Moments.

For the full Match Report of the Huskies’ clash against the Giants– Click HERE

In their previous matchup, the Huskies held off a persistent Taranaki Mountainairs side and looked to carry momentum over into their next contest. Additionally, Auckland was also on the cusp of securing their third win in a row, which when coupled with a late charge to finish high in the postseason rankings, Kevin Braswell’s side had plenty of motivators before the opening tip-off on July 19.

As Joshua Leger won the tip, it marked the only time that the Giants would be ahead for the entirety of the game, as Dane Brooks turned the ball over, and Leon Henry threw the alley-oop to Tohi Smith-Milner for the first bucket of the game. Smith-Milner’s finish signified the start of arguably one of the best starts in NZNBL history.

Reuben Fitzgerald’s three kept the ball rolling as it were, while Smith-Milner and Henry continued to pile it on down low in the post. It was not until the fourth minute of the first quarter that a fourth player got on the scoreboard for Auckland, as Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa converted on a fast-break layup for the Huskies’ seventh made field goal in as many attempts.

Fitzgerald kept his foot on the pedal, whereas Smith-Milner started to find his range, knocking down his first triple of the game thus extending his side’s lead to 12. Leading comfortably 21-9 before the midway point of the term, it was a temptation for the Huskies to start and rest on their laurels. But Auckland did the exact opposite, as the four-man combo of Henry, Fitzgerald, Le’afa and Smith-Milner would account for their team’s opening 34 points while successfully shooting 14 straight shots to begin the game.

A fifth scorer would eventually get their name on the scorecard, with Marvin Williams-Dunn knocking down the Huskies’ 15th straight. Whereas Le’afa and Fitzgerald capped off a flurry of six threes concluding an 18-3 run, leading the Giants 43-12. Fitzgerald’s second shot from deep marked Auckland’s seventeenth straight field goal to start the game.

Finally, with 80 seconds left, Nate Wilson’s three-point attempt would not find its target, ending the season’s most impressive shooting display, and one of the best starts to a single game in the League’s history. Nevertheless, the miss did not seem to sway the 19-year-old, as just 30 seconds later he dunked the ball with two hands to end proceedings in the first.

A lone miss by Anamata Haku brought the Huskies’ shooting average down to 90 per cent (18/20), but no one was too bothered, as Auckland went into the first intermission leading 45-12, essentially winning the game before the start of the second term had even begun.

In a slow paced remaining three quarters, Auckland would walk away with the 96-67 win as a result of the opening period and string together a nice three-game winning streak in the late portion of the season.

Despite their field goal percentage dropping down to 52 per cent by the final buzzer, the Huskies would shoot a productive 46 per cent from deep, nailing 13 triples compared to Nelson’s six.

While the majority of their points came in the first quarter, the combo of Le’afa, Henry, Fitzgerald and Smith-Milner made up most of their team’s total over four periods of play. For Smith-Milner, he led the way with 20 points off of 80 per cent shooting, meanwhile Fitzgerald followed up with 14 of his own. Le’afa proved himself as the squad’s facilitator, producing 12 points alongside six assists and four rebounds, as Henry accumulated a game-high seven rebounds next to 13 points.

Even though there were some mistakes in the second, third and fourth quarters during their clash against the Giants, the Huskies could not be faulted for a single thing in the first. Opening up the second term with a 33-point lead, Auckland never looked back and after witnessing such a dominant stretch of basketball, how could you not see this moment appear in Draft Central’s Top 10.

Webley leads third term Ram-raid to tame Huskies

AN inspired third term by the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown last placed side, Canterbury Rams has continued the unthinkable dream with a come-from-behind 98-84 triumph over Auckland Huskies last night. Led by Thomas Webley who set the tone in the third term after his side had a slow start, the big man turned it on with unbelievable athleticism to drag his team back from the brink and over the line despite a remarkable 39-point effort from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’Afa.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 26 | 16 | 20 | 22 (84)
CANTERBURY RAMS 23 | 13 | 39 | 23 (98)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The first term belonged to the two talented Tall Blacks guards with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa and Reuben Te Rangi going head-to-head on the respective scoring fronts. The Auckland Huskies guard set up Tohi Smith-Milner with the opening basket of the game with a pass through traffic, and soon the size of Aaron Bailey-Nowell on offence added a couple more. Te Rangi would sink the first three-pointer of the game after being left wide open courtesy of a screen, but Bailey-Nowell immediately responded with a couple more points. Huskies had a number of chances but were missing them early, though that began to change when Mauriohooho-Le’Afa got cooking.

Te Rangi was still causing all sorts of issues for the Rams defence, piling on seven points, all of the Rams score in the first half of the term to get his side within four, and then assisted Quintin Bailey for a two-point deficit. But as would be the case, all the Rams scoring would come as a struggle, whilst the Huskies began draining treys like there was no tomorrow – which technically was correct for the losing side. Whilst Mauriohooho-Le’Afa was getting going, it was Leon Henry with a couple of triples and then a massive three first-quarter blocks that was intimidating the young Rams defence. At quarter time, the Huskies led by three after Taylor Britt’s first basket of the game with 40 seconds left got his side back into it.

Webley was having a promising game, and started well with three points and four rebounds, something he would build on in the second term. Despite the lead, Huskies coach Kevin Braswell was not happy with the defence on Te Rangi imploring his guards to double-team the Tall Black. They managed that better in the second term as he would not add to his seven first quarter scores, also gaining a bit of a breather as Sam Smith came on and piled on the baskets to be the most influential Ram with Webley in the second term.

But it was truly the Mauriohooho-Le’Afa show in the second quarter as he drained triple after triple to race to 20 half-time points courtesy of a 13-point second term. Between his offence and Henry’s defence, the inexperienced Rams were struggling to score. At one point, the Huskies guard was outscoring the Rams as Canterbury was two from 10 from three-point range, whilst the Huskies were draining a third of their chances.

The match was summed up by a fourth Henry block with four and a half in the term, followed by a Mauriohooho-Le’Afa trey putting the Huskies out to 12-point lead. With just 29 points to the midpoint of the term, the usually calm Mick Downer told his chargers that it was “the most selfish individual display I’ve seen from us this whole campaign and this is why we have 29 points.” The Rams managed to respond from that to cut back to six points as Smith drained a couple of layups. With 46 seconds remaining, Henry bowled over Ben Carlile-Smith and won the free throws, showing confidence with a stare down over his opponent on the ground. The half-time buzzer sounded with the Huskies up by six, 42-36.

It is unsure what went on at half-time, but whatever it was, it turned the Rams offence on. Whilst the Huskies defence was worried about Te Rangi and Britt, it was Webley who came to play, draining the first six points of the term and went on to finish the term with double-figure points as the big man was dropping floaters and slamming athletic dunks. He not only dragged his team back into it, but he lead the Rams to up to a lead themselves with a 16-4 run early in the term.

Mauriohooho-Le’Afa continued his form though with four points, but he was up against a team offence that had finally clicked. If it was not Webley, then it was Bailey or Toby Gillooly who were making the Huskies hurt. The biggest issue was the Huskies’ big men were getting into four trouble with Henry (three) and both Smith-Milner and Bailey-Nowell (four each) all close to being fouled out. Henry was still being aggressive on the offensive effort to try and help Mauriohooho Le’afa out, but everything the Rams touched turned to gold. Britt dropped a couple of treys off rare Henry fumbles out of bounds and the lead went out to 11 at one point.

Everything was going wrong for the Huskies as they were desperately trying to get some baskets, but a rushed pass from Smith-Milner was intercepted by Britt who went to the basket and was fouled to put the lead out to 13 by the final term. No one could quite understand what had occurred in the third quarter following a massive 39-20 term. What was even more remarkable was the fact that Te Rangi had not scored since the first term, and Britt only had 12 points – most of which came late in the term. For the Huskies, Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa and Henry combined for 46 points and 14 rebounds but needed more support.

The Huskies had 10 minutes to try and stay in the Sal’s NBL Finals Series, but it was not going to happen with a triple from Jack Exeter to push the lead out to 14 in the first 90 seconds. Henry responded with a last second trey before the shot clock expired. The Rams were still being aggressive on offence and throwing everything at the Rams in the last term. Henry was being incredible both inside and outside, and when Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa dropped another basket, his side was back within nine.

Six minutes in the Rams called a timeout with the 11-point lead and Downer implored his players to keep up the aggression on offence without going too far. The Huskies kept trying for long-range attempts, but the treys were now not dropping. Instead, Te Rangi was fouled shooting for a triple of his own and had three free throws, making two of them for a 12-point lead with five minutes remaining. The work by Canterbury’s defence to double-team Henry on the way to the hoop forced a miss, and Te Rangi almost ended the game with a triple but it rolled in and out.

With 3:47 remaining, Bailey-Nowell was fouled out for an offensive foul and a 11-point deficit. Henry continued his unbelievable work on defence and it led to a Huskies basket up the other end with Anamata Hatu scoring his first points coming on for Bailey-Nowell. Reuben Fitzgerald was using his speed to get to the basket but split both free throw opportunities in the final term with eight points the difference. When Smith-Milner was offensively fouled by Te Rangi with 2.31 on the clock, the Huskies had possession again and Mauriohooho-Lea’Afa was fouled on the way to the hoop and made no mistake with his free throws to go up to a massive 39 points and getting his team within six points.

Unfortunately for the Huskies that was as close as it got with Te Rangi draining an important basket, Britt doubling up with two nice jumpers and with just over a minute remaining the Rams held a 12-point lead. The Rams managed to wind down the clock and when Smith sank a trey with 30 seconds remaining, he iced the game to guarantee the Rams a most magnificent victory, 98-84.

Webley finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists, shooting at 69 per cent from the field, while Britt (16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists) ended up having a prominent night after a slow start. Te Rangi quietened down after his ripping first term but finished with 13 points, and still contributed with eight rebounds and six assists, while Gillooly picked up the only double-double of the game with 12 points and 12 rebounds to his name. Smith (16 points, two rebounds and two assists) and Bailey (14 points, five rebounds) were the other double-figure Rams. For the Huskies it was a two-man show with Mauriohooho-Le’Afa dominating everywhere with 39 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals, while Henry threw himself desperately at every ball to end with 18 points, eight rebounds, four assists and six blocks. Smith-Milner was the other Huskies player to pick up double-digit points with 16 but outside of the trio, the remainder of the team contributed just 11 points.

Whilst the Huskies exit the competition after some terrific basketball this season, the Rams advance to take on the top of the table Otago Nuggets tomorrow night, having to recover for the second straight night. While it is unheard of to think the last placed side could take out the title, the Rams so far have shown anything is possible.

Huskies slide into third ahead of finals, outlast Jets

IN an extremely tight-knit rendezvous of two of the top four teams in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown, the Auckland Huskies have held on just long enough to see off a tenacious Manawatu Jets side, to lock up third spot ahead of Finals Week.

The 93-82 win sets the Huskies up for a meeting with the winner of Tuesday’s elimination final between the Nelson Giants and the Canterbury Rams.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 25 | 19 | 24 | 25 (93)
MANAWATU JETS 24 | 21 | 21 | 16 (82)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Leading up to last night’s encounter, the Huskies had some writing on the game. A win would see them take on the winner of the first elimination final between the two bottom teams in the league, whereas a loss would see them face the Franklin Bulls, a team they only beat by four points last time out. So, it was safe to assume that Kevin Braswell’s side was looking for a victory against the second-seeded Jets.

Both teams made their shots count in the infant stages of the match, with each side seeing more than 60 per cent of their shots drop early on in the first half of the opening period, perfectly encapsulated by a beautiful turnaround fadeaway from Nelson Kirksey five minutes in. With both teams deadlocked through nine minutes of basketball at 20 points apiece, a pull-up three by Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa would give Auckland the one-point lead at quarter-time, 25-24, also thanks to the Huskies’ five second chance points and Leon Henry’s seven.

Continuing into the second term, neither side could effectively pull away from the other in the quarter. However, a couple of buckets from guards Haize Walker and Jayden Bezzant helped squeeze out a momentary lead just before half-time. Succeeding this, another three from Le’afa tied up the joust with 90 seconds yet to be played, tying the game at 43. A lovely running floater by a crafty Ashton McQueen, put the Jets up two with less than a minute to go in the half, shortly before a lone Isaac Miller-Jose free-throw cut the difference by one, rounding out a seesawing affair through 20 minutes.

In total, 11 lead changes took place in the first half, and it did not look like the pattern of scoring would not change anytime soon. With little to separate the two teams at the halfway point, it was the efforts of Le’afa and Hyrum Harris leading the way for their respective teams. Le’afa’s 15 points and three assists, shone through with a couple of triples, as Harris was putting in work early, stacking up the stat sheet with 11 points, seven rebounds and four steals.

Two quick buckets got the Huskies up and running, as they kicked off the second half with a 12-4 run and therefore putting themselves in the driver’s seat with 16 minutes to play. Each side struggled profusely to be accurate from three-point range and because of this, the contest would be a grind. Both sides had to fight for tooth and nail to get even a decent look at the rim, forcing scorers to earn their points more often than not in the key.

Eventually a breakthrough arrived and both offences started to flow, as Kirksey knocked down two consecutive threes, therefore returning command over the game back to Manawatu. Marvin Williams-Dunn answered back with one of his own to initiate a 7-0 run finishing off a strong response by a crafty Auckland side.

The Huskies grasped the slightest of leads with a quarter to go and only a strong, focused and diligent line-up would be needed to take the team to the finish line. Two layups in a row for Aaron Bailey-Nowell put the Huskies back on the right track, but for every attack Auckland made, Manawatu had a counterattack own – like Nicholas Fee’s three to answer back to Auckland’s.

But the exit of McQueen due to too many personal fouls and an early departure for Vodanovich, the Jets were without one of their best defenders and one of their best offensive threats, which made obtaining the win drastically more difficult. A beautiful assist to Fee and steal from Harris was a critical point in the contest with three and a half minutes left, taking a huge chunk out of their deficit.

Two further free throws from Harris tied the game, but Tohi Smith-Milner and Henry went for the jugular with two minutes remaining, fabricating an 8-0 run out of thin air and in the space of three possessions ending the game. Finding their form in the fourth and final quarter, the 93-82 result did not reflect the true character of the game for Auckland. The character could be described as an extremely close grinded out contest, with the Huskies only blowing the game out of the water in the last couple of minutes.

Nevertheless, the Huskies eighth win of the campaign equals the record of the Taranaki Mountain Airs, but due to percentage, Auckland now lifts itself into the third seed. Because of this, the team now looks forward to facing either the Rams or the Giants on Wednesday night.

For the Jets, they conclude their NZNBL regular season with an overall record of eight wins and six losses and look to earn a semi-final position with a win over the minor premier Otago Nuggets on Tuesday.

Auckland had five players in double-digit figures for scoring, headlined by Le’afa who continued his terrific run of form in the late portion of the season. The 23-year-old locked up 26 points and six assists, as well as four shots from deep (40 per cent efficiency). Smith-Milner (19 points and 10 rebounds) and Henry (13 points and 13 rebounds) both enjoyed the spoils of war with each Husky nabbing themselves a double-double, whereas Bailey-Nowell and Nathan Wilson produced 12 and 11 points respectively.

For the season’s runners-up Jets, Harris collected another unconventional stat-line, falling three assists and one steal short of a quadruple-double in another all-around effort. The Illawarra Hawk from last season tallied 16 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and nine steals. Meanwhile Taane Samuel strung together a team-high 25 points through 33 minutes.

Huskies snatch seventh win to stay in touch with top three

A HUGE ladder-defining Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown contest ensued on Wednesday night as the Canterbury Rams took on the Auckland Huskies with no winner in clear sight until the last few minutes when the Huskies emerged victorious. From the very beginning, the Rams enforced their dominance by killing the Huskies for rebounds. Both teams came into the game looking just a little sloppy, with silly fouls, thoughtless turnovers and questionable shots, yet the rhythm of the game was quickly about to change as Auckland got the points, 90-81.

CANTERBURY RAMS 15 | 25 | 17 | 24 (81)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 18 | 31 | 15 | 26 (90)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

What did not change was that with every shot, red jerseys swamped the glass but the Huskies were finding their way into the driving lane with ease. Nice interior passing and remaining patient near the basket was how the Rams kept it close for the start of the quarter. It was the Huskies’ strong defensive plays that saw Auckland begin to lead, extending to a three-point margin that would provide a buffer for the rest of the match.

Rams’ Thomas Webley had the play of the game, and maybe the season, as the quarter nearly closed. It was a jab-step crossover so deadly that it knocked the defender to the ground, closing in to slam it over a Huskies defender. Five seconds later, he swatted Jaylen Gerrand‘s ball – a 10-second clip that Webley might hold onto for a while.

But Gerrand came out streaky in the second, with back-to-back to back made threes, helping the Huskies to lead by nine. His value only increased when every defending Ram had one eye on the ball and one on Gerrand, leading the Huskies to knock down easy jumpers.

The Rams’ strategy was the exact opposite – they attacked the rim in nearly every possession. This is easier when you have someone like Taylor Britt, a player so quick on the dribble that he can beat his man or find the open one. But after running a play just like that, Britt hit his already injured elbow into a defender diving for a rebound. Britt crashed to the floor holding his elbow but would get back up a few seconds later. A timeout was called, and the Rams’ chances for a comeback felt increasingly slim, but as the timeout ended Britt re-took the floor and ran the first play for the Rams. A moment that would act as a turning point in the game, the Rams had time to reflect on it as they went back into the locker room down by nine at half-time.

With smart passing, aggression in the lane and immaculate defence, it was like the Rams just started the game again. Within two minutes of the second half beginning they were back within a basket. Finally after a 8-0 run coming out of half-time, the Huskies called a time out but it was too late – that 8-0 run became a 10-0 run, and before you knew it, the game looked like it was for a championship or bust. Diving on loose balls, scrambling for rebounds and piercing passes were just some of the things that made this quarter remarkable. Gerrand was able to stabilise the game for the Huskies with a flashy layup but the intensity did not waver. It was a hotly contested game, with both teams arguing with the referees on almost every call.

Quintin Bailey was instrumental in not allowing any easy baskets under the rim. Yet the same went for opposing big man, Leon Henry. Both teams were forced to settle for jump shots, especially in the third quarter. The tough battle continued, with Webley forced to exit the game for a blood rule though the origin of the blood was unknown. The third quarter would end 57- 64 as the Huskies had survived the comeback and were now battling with their head just above water in the fourth.

That burning resilience shown by the Rams in the third had clearly taken its toll, with the side allowing far too many close rim shots early. The Huskies, noticing this opportunity, directed all of their plays towards the rim to block the Rams and limit scoring opportunities. But fatigue hurt the Rams in more than one place, with Britt’s lighting quick moves slowing down as the game went on. Britt is not just the leading playmaker for the Rams, but is also a barometer for the team, meaning as his foot came off the pedal so did the rest of the Rams’.

Lucky for the cellar dwellers, the Huskies also went through the same issue in the latter stages of the game. Huskies coach, Kevin Braswell tried to counter this by running a zone on the other side of the floor, and the strategy worked as the Huskies hit back-to-back threes to bring the lead to nine with over five minutes to go. The hot hands would not leave the Huskies as that lead became 10, then 12 and then finally back to nine, to sound the horn as the Huskies won 90-81.

Tohi Smith-Milner (22 points) and Henry (13 points, 12 rebounds) both finished with double doubles on the night, while Gerrand was the Huskies’ top scorer thanks to 26 points and two rebounds. Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa (17 points, nine assists and four rebounds) and Reuben Fitzgerald (10 points, three rebounds) also reached double-figure points. For the rams, Britt helped himself to a team-high 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Alex Talma (15 points, 11 rebounds) picked up a double-double. Toby Gillooly stepped up to recorded 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists, while Bailey (13 points, six rebounds) was prominent off the bench.

Each team has one remaining game in the regular Sal’s NBL season and play on Saturday evening with the Rams to face the Franklin Bulls and Huskies to matchup against the Manawatu Jets in the final game of the night.

Nuggets reverse Huskies first quarter fortune, cruise to 109-83 victory

OTAGO Nuggets gave Auckland Huskies a taste of their own medicine with a huge first term to set up an impressive 109-83 victory to maintain top spot on the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown ladder. After a mammoth 45-point opening term in their last game, the Huskies were considered a danger early, so the Nuggets went to work from the first tip-off and came away with the win.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 23 | 21 | 18 | 21 (83)
OTAGO NUGGETS 34 | 25 | 31 | 19 (109)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

A few loose possessions started the match before a Reuben Fitzgerald three opened the scoring account, with Jarrod Kenny driving down low to lay it in making it a basket each.

The Huskies’ first quarter on Sunday set up their win with a prolifically efficient shooting performance. Because of this, the Nuggets knew they had to fire early, and they did, scoring seven three-pointers from ten attempts through the first 10 minutes of action. Auckland seemed to lack that flow offensively that they had in abundance on Sunday.

Kane Keil was at his best early on knocking down two of those seven shots from deep with Jordan Hunt, Josh Aitcheson and Kenny stepping in with triples of their own. The lead was suddenly at double digits, a lead the Nuggets held until the first break, but was also a lead that threatened to explode with Otago’s offensive efficiency and Auckland’s offensive deficiency (36 per cent shooting). Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa’s 12 first quarter points and Aaron Bailey-Nowell’s hustle on both ends kept the deficit at bay, while preventing its extension.

Most teams would be content with the 23-point first quarter the Huskies had; however, Otago’s hot hand ensured a 34-point first quarter as they enjoyed an 11-point lead at the first break.

Some easy fixes for the Huskies on the offensive end seemed to be tweaked at the break as they come out on an 8-0 run to start thanks to five Tohi Smith-Milner points and a Jaylen Gerrand three. Having a chance to tie the game, an Isaac Miller-Jose offensive foul stopped the momentum, and Aitcheson free throws stopped the scoring run. Aitcheson would get to the line again and hit some corner threes as he was on his way to 18 first half points.

Despite Smith-Milner’s best efforts, a Matthew Bardsley layup gave Otago a double-digit lead again, another one they wouldn’t squander, but this time for the rest of the game.

Defying the Huskies low shooting percentage was Fitzgerald whose four makes from as many attempts helped him to 11 points, thriving in Taine Murray’s absence. Jordan Ngatai’s first points came with a minute and a half left in the second quarter as Aitcheson fittingly ended the half’s scoring. The Nuggets led 44-59 at the main break with many thanks to their 61 per cent shooting from beyond the arc and 17 assists from 21 makes on the floor.

Otago boasted many scorers but for the Huskies, it was Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Smith-Milner leading the way with 12 and 11 points, respectively. Leon Henry was down on his usual efforts with just two points until half time.

The second half begun the same way the first half ended with Aitcheson laying it in, setting the tone for another dominant Otago quarter with Kenny and Keil scoring from three-point territory early in the third. Not to be outdone, Mauriohooho Le’Afa replied after being held scoreless in the second quarter. More players stepped up for the Nuggets despite him to stretch the lead to 30 which they managed to hold on to for much of the game. The point of difference was Hunt whose three-pointer ended the third quarter in which he scored 14 points.

Auckland’s physicality picked up with their bench unit towards the end of the quarter which provided a positive to coach Kevin Braswell, but physicality is far less valuable than points on the board. They trailed 62-90 heading into the last break with the game all but over.

Both teams put their key players away after a couple of minutes of fourth quarter action, giving an opportunity for some bench players to stake their claim in the rotation as we approach the business end of the competition.

It was almost an end-to-end scrimmage as the Huskies won the quarter 21-19. Marvin Williams-Dunn took the opportunity to gain some confidence offensively as the Nuggets boasted 10 individual scorers on the night.

The final score was 109-83, an emphatic win to keep Otago at the top of the ladder with Manawatu.

The Nuggets shot 54 per cent from the floor including 57 per cent from deep with Hunt (31 points, five rebounds, six three-pointers) playing a big part in both percentages. Aitcheson (22 points, six rebounds) slowed down after half time while Kenny was named MVP with his 20 points, four rebounds and seven assists. The microwave Keil missed his first shot in the last quarter as he made his way to 16 points, while Ngatai was kept quiet while playing a role with two points, six assists, four steals and five turnovers.

The Huskies missed Murray’s offensive output tonight as the reliable Mauriohooho Le’Afa led the way with 17 points and four assists. Fitzgerald did his best to fill Murray’s shoes with 13 points on five for five shooting while Smith-Milner put up 13 points and five rebounds in just under 20 minutes of play. Bailey-Nowell (12 points, two steals) has proved a valuable addition to this Huskies line-up as Henry (four points, six rebounds) just couldn’t get it going.

Auckland will look to move on with a much better performance Wednesday night against the last-placed Canterbury Rams while Otago get ready for a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash with the Manawatu Jets on Thursday night.

Huskies continue to be Airs kryptonite, win in OT thriller

FOR the second consecutive time, the Auckland Huskies have upset the league-leading Taranaki Mountainairs in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NZNBL) season’s second overtime contest of the year, 102-99. Tohi Smith-Milner‘s 22 points and 21 rebounds was a huge factor in the result as the Huskies continued their good form over the last couple of weeks as the season builds towards finals.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 24 | 20 | 22 | 17 | 19 (102)
TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 23 | 24 | 15 | 21 | 16 (99)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Looking at reaching a .500 record for the first time since the start of the season, the Huskies needed to find a way to slow down the one-two punch of Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones.

Auckland also had the challenge of stopping the Airs bench players from contributing further, as they looked to their own secondary players to chip in wherever they could. Meanwhile, a win for Taranaki would make it five in a row, in what has been a perfect start to the second half of the Sal’s NBL season.

Leon Henry and Smith-Milner’s opening field goals started the Huskies off on the right foot. But as expected, Jones and Raukawa got going early for the Airs answering back with field goals of their own.

Only three minutes into the contest both teams traded baskets profusely with 18 points being scored, as defence seemed to come few and far between passages of play. However, the battle between Raukawa and Auckland’s Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa was a fierce one early. Nevertheless, it did not stop Taranaki’s point-guard from collecting 11 of his sides first 18 points.

As a strong post-move from Mitchell Dance and aggressive block from Denhym Brooke made it seem like the Airs might edge out a first quarter lead, a three-pointer by Le’afa gave Auckland the 24-23 lead at the first break, capping off a 10-point quarter for the guard.

In a more casual start to the second quarter, it was not until the fourth minute of play that a Jones three and six straight points by Shane Temara allowed Taranaki to take a hold of the game, leading by eight at the mid-way stages of the second.

After Auckland’s timeout, a Smith-Milner three kick started a 9-0 run for the Huskies, handing them back the lead with a couple minutes still to play in the first half.

Two straight buckets for Jones, following an early exit appearing to be a groin injury to Smith-Milner (would return in the second half), sparked another late run for the Airs, giving the Gold and Black a three-point lead at the main break, 47-44.

Kevin Braswell’s squad despite trailing by just three points, failed to really slow down Raukawa and Jones, with each of them scoring 15 and 16 points respectively, while Jones grabbed seven boards too. For the Huskies, their skipper in Henry led from the front with 12 first half points, aiding his side to a 44 per cent shooting and 11-assist first half.

Three minutes into a rather uneventful third quarter, Jones pulled down his tenth rebound, adding another double-double to his impressive track record. However, Smith-Milner’s hustle on the glass helped his side regain the lead the next play and log a double-double of his own just a couple minutes later.

Two three-pointers from Auckland wing Taine Murray with a few seconds remaining in the third, gave Auckland a four-point advantage with ten minutes to go, 66-62, as the Huskies looked to repeat history by knocking off a strong Taranaki side.

Murray would continue the fourth from deep with his fifth three of the game. But the Airs continued to fight back inside the key, as the front court duo of Jones and Temara hounded the rim earning their points up close and at the free-throw line.

For 20-year-old Reuben Fitzgerald, throughout the game he had found himself in the right place at the right time on various occasions, accumulating five rebounds leading up to the first half of the final quarter, four of which were offensive. This was capped off with a key layup and the foul, putting his side four points ahead late in the game, as well as putting enormous pressure on Taranaki to answer.

Moving on to the end of the game, with both sides tied at 83-83, back-to-back offensive rebounds for the Airs and a missed three on the buzzer by Raukawa, would set up the second overtime contest of the season, the second for Taranaki as well.

A nice swing play to Jones would kick off OT with a hook shot in front of the basket, which was followed by threes from Jones again and Raukawa, putting the Airs up by as much as six. Back-to-back buckets from Smith-Milner and Le’afa brought the game to within a single possession and after Murray’s hanging reverse layup, the game was tied with 100 seconds remaining.

As more buckets were traded in the final minute of play, Le’afa’s bonus free-throws created a three-point deficit with 16 seconds on the clock. As Kenneth Tuffin’s layup would bring the contest back to one, bonus free-throws from Le’afa and Smith-Milner would be enough for the Huskies to once again topple the Airs, squeezing out the 102-99 victory.

Even though the Airs shot a pretty consistent 36 per cent from the field, it was not enough to get their side over the edge. Nevertheless, another great night from the duo of Jones and Raukawa was on display.

For Jones, he finished his night with 36 points and 17 rebounds, while Raukawa walked off the court with 28 points and eight assists under his name. Additionally, Temara completed the game with 15 points and eight rebounds.

In a game of bulk statistics, Smith-Milner made his statement game in Thursday’s opener with 22 points and 21 rebounds. His performance was the first 20-20 game in the NZNBL season to this point. Meanwhile, Murray’s team-high 28 points on six three-pointers led the side in scoring. Finally, Le’afa and Henry’s 21 points apiece, rounded out a strong performance from the Huskies’ starting five.

Auckland’s win earned them a record of five wins and five losses, putting them just outside the top four as they eye up the bottom of the table Nelson Giants on Sunday night.

Following last night’s contest, the Airs will look to bounce back against a top four foe in the fourth seeded Manawatu Jets, who could challenge for the top spot in the following week if they can get the job done this weekend against Taranaki.

Bulls prevail in inaugural ‘Battle of the North’

THE second-last game of the first week back in the NZNBL (New Zealand National Basketball League) gave us the inaugural ‘Battle of the North’ matchup as the two Auckland teams faced off in the Franklin Bulls and the Auckland Huskies. With both teams looking for their first victory, a desperate battle beckoned in what is hopefully the start of an enthralling rivalry for years to come.

The two lowest scoring teams in the competition provided a low scoring affair from the beginning, however, fans were still treated with the Bulls recording a tight four-point victory.

FRANKLIN BULLS 16 | 8 | 22 | 17 (63)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 13 | 12 | 17 | 17 (59)

[ … FULL GAME STATS … ]

The Bulls enjoyed a two-day break, as the Huskies did not have much to enjoy after suffering a 28-point loss to the Jets the previous night. Auckland would be boosted with the introduction of Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa who was coming off a 14-day quarantine period after returning from Sacramento State University.

Melbourne United big man Tohi Smith-Milner would open the scoring with an elbow jumper, but a slew of missed shots and scrappy play wouldn’t see another score for almost two minutes. Dom Kelman-Poto then asserted himself into the game with a defensive rebound turning into an and-one opportunity. His missed free throw would spark a run of seven consecutive missed free throws from both teams, typifying a low-scoring game with a 16-13 opening quarter the Bulls way. Even though Isaac Davidson and all-time league three-point record holder Leon Henry provided some excitement briefly trading buckets, there wasn’t lots to cheer about early on.

Taine Murray would start the second quarter on the bench having played the whole first quarter, ending with a neat hop-step layup. Bulls big man Sam Timmins started the second quarter with a big block, setting the tone with his inside presence. Mauriohooho Le’afa would air ball a jumper, missing his sixth shot in a row, with the next score coming two minutes later in the form of a Henry layup. He would then give the Huskies the lead with a triple before Kelman-Poto tied it up with a put back layup. Another big block from Timmins and score from Kelman-Poto would force Huskies coach Kevin Braswell to call a timeout.

Perhaps hoping to ignite the rivalry, the Bulls’ mascot stomped on Henry’s jersey as he was initially a Franklin recruit prior to the Coronavirus shutting the league down. Almost three minutes later, Kelman-Poto would find himself in foul trouble, subbing out of the game. Young guns Davidson and Murray would then go head-to-head stealing the ball off each other before Smith-Milner would close the quarter out with an unconverted and-one opportunity and a three to give the Huskies a one-point lead, 24-25, heading into the main break.

Despite Timmins’ four blocks, it wasn’t stringent defence causing the low scores, both teams were just shooting poorly. The Bulls were shooting 33 per cent while the Huskies were shooting 28 per cent for the half and there was only one made free throw from 11 attempts from both teams. Also, the Bulls found themselves shooting early in their possessions with few passes, recording just one assist compared to the Huskies’ six.

Henry would start the third quarter with a mid-range fade from the post, setting himself up for eight points for the quarter, including two straight from deep. Timmins continued to give the Huskies nightmares defensively, taking his blocks tally to six, guarding the paint vigilantly in the Bulls’ 2-3 zone. Though he would have liked to have had more influence scoring, he would set some strong screens for his teammates to score from. Marvin Williams-Dunn scored his first and only points for the game with a silky cut down the middle of the lane for a layup giving the Huskies a one-point lead with three minutes left in the quarter.

The momentum would swing Franklin’s way from there as point guard Chris McIntosh would grab a huge offensive board leading to a foul. He made four free throws in less than two minutes, as an Mauriohooho Le’afa mid-range jumper would get wedged between the ring and the backboard. Timmins then took his presence outside to finish the quarter with a triple. The Bulls would go into the last quarter with a four-point lead.

Mauriohooho Le’afa made his solitary bucket at the start of the last quarter as he would end the night shooting one for 15. Franklin’s Everard Bartlett would be important down the stretch with his third of four three pointers in the game giving the Bulls a game-high eight-point lead. The Huskies worked their way back into the game on the back of Smith-Milner. His best effort at the line would tie the game up, before Davidson’s go-ahead step-back jumper would give the Bulls the lead again. Davidson’s two free throws would end the game giving the Bulls a hard-fought four-point victory and their first for the season.

His 19-points would leave him the game leader to go with his seven rebounds. Bartlett’s accurate 13-points proved important at the end, while Jackson Stubbins and Kelman-Poto each recorded eight rebounds. Henry’s 16 points, 15 rebounds, six assists and three steals kept Auckland in the game at times, along with Smith-Milner’s 18 points and Murray’s 12.

Despite the exciting finish, both teams will be looking to shoot the ball a lot better which should come with more practice. The Bulls move to fifth place on the ladder and will be looking to add to their wins tally when they face the Nelson Giants on Tuesday, while the winless Huskies will prepare for the best scoring team in the league in Taranaki Mountainairs.

Vodanovich and Harris pave the way for Jets rout over Huskies

IN the first of last night’s 2020 Sal’s National basketball League (NBL) Showdown match ups, it was Manawatu Jets that got their season rolling, following the 28-point drubbing of the Auckland Huskies in a contest that saw the Jets hold the wolfpack to 21 first half points.

It was the outstanding play of two ANBL (Australian NBL) prospects that neutralised the Huskies’ offensive play, thus being responsible for keeping the Kevin Braswell’s squad winless for at least a day longer in this season’s NZNBL.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 13 | 8 | 23 | 23 (67)
MANAWATU JETS 23 | 31 | 19 | 22 (95)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS .. ]

Both the Auckland Huskies and the Manawatu Jets went into Saturday afternoon’s contest looking for their first win of the season, with each team staring at 0-1 starts to kick off their NZNBL campaigns.

It seemed that from the get-go the Jets were looking to their shooters early on, as New Zealand Breaker Thomas Vodanovich nailed two three pointers to kick off the first quarter for Manawatu in the infant minutes of the game.

However, Vodanovich wouldn’t stop there as he would go on to score 10 of the Jets’ 16  initial points throughout the first half of the opening period. But on the flip side, it was the poor shooting by the Huskies that got them off on the wrong foot, shooting 27 per cent from the field by the first break, compared to Manawatu’s 56, thus causing them to trail by double-digits early on. Another factor in this was also Hyrum Harris’s 10 opening quarter rebounds.

The situation would remain dire for Auckland throughout the second period, following a 21-3 run by the Jets squad in the first six minutes. As all seemed completely lost by this point for the Huskies trailing by as much as 37, guard Emmanuel Matambanadzo would drain two late baskets leading into the end of the first half, putting a dent into what was a stellar 20 minutes of play from the Jets, with Manawatu leading 54-21 at the main break.

It was more of the same at the start of the second half, as Vodanovich kicked off the third quarter with another bucket from deep, extending his side’s lead by an astonishing 36 points off a Harris assist. Nevertheless, Auckland finally started to put some points up on the scoreboard, outscoring the Jets as a whole in the third quarter, 23-19. Taine Murray amassed 10 of his team’s 23 from the beginning of the third period to the start of the final quarter.

When the final period finally came around, after what seemed like an eternity from the viewpoint of Auckland, Jayden Bezzant would continue a trend that was becoming a familiar pattern, nailing a three-pointer to kick-start the closing quarter and extending the deficit to 32 with a final nail in the coffin.

With just 46 seconds remaining in a completely lop-sided affair, Nicholas Brophy’s two made free-throws would bring the Huskies’ loss under 30 points, capping off a 40-minute rout by the Jets, 95-67. The win would set in motion Manawatu’s season, earning the side their first win of the season, meanwhile the Huskies would slip to 0-2, thus placing them next to the winless Nelson Giants and Franklin Bulls.

The two main factors for Manawatu’s dominant performance could be solely placed on the shoulders of Vodanovich and Harris, as the two would combine for 55 points. Additionally, offensive efficiency was a tale of two stories as the Huskies would shoot a miserable 33 per cent, a deficit of 15 below compared to the victors, who shot an impressive 48 per cent of their attempts. Looking past the plus-11 on the rebounding totals, the Jets would come out on top in basically every statistical category in what was an exemplary second matchday of their season.

Vodanovich, who shot the lights out from beyond the arc, going 10 of 14 from deep at a 71 per cent clip, was largely responsible for his 38 points on the scoreboard. For Harris, a member of the Illawarra Hawks in last season’s NBL competition, improved his stock market value tremendously, following what was a complete demolition job on the boards. Harris’s final stat line would read 13 points, six assists, four steals and a whopping 21 rebounds.

Other honourable mentions for the Jets included Bezzant, who accounted for the team’s second largest gathering of points on the night accumulating 17 was a reliable source of production, shooting 50 per cent on the night, alongside five assists and four rebounds. Whereas, Haize Walker provided the extra goods, finishing his day with 11 points next to his name.

Looking at the positives for the Huskies, Murray’s team-high 16 points was the lone talking point for Auckland in regard to their offence, whereas big man Leon Henry fell a basket and a rebound short of a double-double. Meanwhile, Jaylen Gerrand’s 4-10 shooting performance would be enough for him to crack double digits (10 points).

Auckland has the chance to redeem themselves in less than 24 hours, as they take on the Franklin Bulls. Whereas, the Jets can put themselves above .500 with a win over the Nelson Giants and given their performance last night, it seems a real possibility.

2020 Sal’s NBL June 27 night preview: Huskies v Jets and Rams v Airs

TWO sides looking for their first win ahead of back-to-back matches over the weekend, and two undefeated sides looking to close out a perfect first week of action are the two matches on offer for fans tonight in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) competition.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES VS. MANAWATU JETS

Two sides hoping to kick-start their seasons face off in a Saturday evening match having had some time to reflect on opening game losses. The Huskies went down in the largest loss of the season thus far to the Canterbury Rams by 32 points, whilst the Jets fell in a tight one to Otago Nuggets a day later. With both sides aware they have games the next day – and Auckland having two less hours recovery – the teams will be keen to make player management a priority, whilst also trying come away with the ‘W’.

The Huskies will be adamant to put in a better performance than the 102-70 loss to Canterbury Rams. Whilst Auckland was missing its top draft pick in Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa, the Bulls were without two of their top three picks but managed to get the job done. It will all be about taking the learnings from game one and adjusting for the side to gel in game two, something that will be made easier by experienced coach Kevin Braswell being at the helm. The quality of the team is undeniable, with Tohi Smith-Milner living up to expectations as the Huskies’ best from game one thanks to 15 points, four rebounds and two steals, but more importantly shooting the ball at 62.5 per cent from the field.

Debutant Nathan Wilson impressed with 10 points, four rebounds and two steals himself, also shooting at an accurate 62.5 per cent, but veteran Leon Henry had a rare poor shooting night with just one from nine from the field handing him two points, though he managed to get around and pick up six rebounds and two assists. Young gun Taine Murray also only shot 20 per cent from the field, finishing with seven points, four rebounds and three assists, but both will be better for the run. The team will be without Rashid Al Kaleem for the match after the veteran guard was inured in the loss.

The Jets on the other hand had no trouble finding the basket, putting up 100 points in their 100-104 loss to the Nuggets on Wednesday. Jayden Bezzant dazzled with 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals, whilst Tom Vodanovich picked up a massive double-double of 28 points and 14 rebounds. Hyrum Harris (nine points, 11 rebounds and seven assists) was huge and not that far off a remarkable triple-double, making it a dominant trio on the court. The other major scorer was Taane Samuel who knocked down 20 points, and picked up four rebounds for his troubles.

The only problem was that despite their dominance, they still lost to a Jarrod Kenny-inspired Nuggets outfit, which means there is still room for improvement. The bench only scored six points for the night, something that has to improve in this game for the Jets to have a better look at it. With plenty of improvement for the Huskies, the Jets also need to step up, because their top players played as well as you’d expect, so it will be about everyone stepping up if they are to get the win.

CANTERBURY RAMS VS. TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS

The second game of the night should be a full house – if it was allowed – with the two undefeated sides in Canterbury Rams and Taranaki Mountainairs doing battle for top spot on the table at the end of week one. Both the these sides close out their week after two wins earlier in proceedings, as the Rams knocked off the Huskies and Franklin Bulls, whilst the Airs toppled the Nelson Giants and Bulls. This is a must-watch clash between two genuine title contenders early in the proceedings.

Three of the top five scorers from the competition so far will take to the court in this game, with Derone Raukawa and Marcel Jones living up to their top two draft selections with strong starts to the season. Jones is averaging a ridiculous double-double of 21 points, 13 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals in a stat-line that would have him leading the Most Valuable Player (MVP) stakes. Raukawa was the first selection in the Player Draft and has already notched up a huge game one and an inspired second half of game two to help his side get over the line. The point guard is averaging 23 points, four rebounds and eight assists in his two games thus far. Others to watch are big center Tai Wynyard and talented guards, Ken Tuffin and Francis Mulvihill.

For the Rams, Taylor Britt has stepped it up this season from coming off the bench last year to main man in 2020. He has been instrumental in the Rams’ success, and along with Jones would be another leading contender for early MVP honours. He has averaged 20.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists for Canterbury, whilst his partner-in-crime Toby Gillooly has been huge with 20.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and a steal and block per game in their victories. Along with that duo, Alex Talma provides a huge presence off the boards, whilst Sam Smith has been a consistent player in the first two games of the season.

When looking at the team-by-team stats, the Airs are a huge offensive team, ranked one in points for with 109.5 per game, whilst the Rams are much lower at 88.5, just fourth in the competition. This has not hindered their win column though, with both sides very strong at rebounding and getting the job done. This match is a very difficult one to pick because both teams have been superb sides throughout and it could well be a battle between trying to find free-flowing open scoring, and a defensive slog with patient shooting.

If the Rams can continue to show their cohesion in transition given their familiarity with each other’s styles, they will have a bit of an advantage, but with two games behind them and already big scores on the board, the Airs arguably start favourites in what is a massive game.