Tag: Nathan Wilson

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 claim upset win over second placed Nuggets

THE Auckland Huskies stunned the second place Otago Nuggets in a full four quarter performance to run out 12-point victors (81-69) in the Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) last night. The Huskies led throughout the game, stopping the normally free scoring Nuggets in their tracks and controlling the tempo of the game with their attacking prowess.

OTAGO NUGGETS 18 | 20 | 13 | 18 (69)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 23 | 21 | 17 | 20 (81)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Jordan Ngatai struck first for the Nuggets with the big man converting the first layup of the game before Marvin Williams-Dunn delivered for the Huskies with a triple. From there on in the play seemed to lie with the Huskies as Leon Henry chimed in with a three-pointer to push his side out to a solid lead. The ball ebbed and flowed across the court with neither side able to capitalise on their chances with Taine Murray and Otago Nuggets star, Jarrod Kenny missing a couple of shots. Ngatai seemed to be the only one able to apply any sort of scoreboard pressure for the Nuggets, while Auckland shared the load around with the likes of Izayah Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Tohi Smith-Milner asserting themselves on the contest. It was not until the six-and-a-half-minute mark that someone other than Ngatai hit the scoreboard for the Nuggets with Jordan Hunt stepping up to the plate to cut the deficit to one point. With the Nuggets pushing hard, Smith-Milner upped the ante in attack dropping back-to-back points to re-establish a four-point lead. The insertion of Darcy Knox into the game worked wonders for Otago with the Nuggets attacking the basket and using his frame to have an influence across the boards. With just over three minutes left in the quarter Kane Keil converted from a free-throw, keeping his side within striking distance of the Huskies, before a big final couple of minutes saw Auckland blow the lead back out to five points mainly thanks to Nathan Wilson.

The second quarter delivered very similar results for the Nuggets, who were unable to implement their signature style of play instead succumbing to the pressure of the Huskies. In the opening minutes of the quarter Richie Roger showcased his ability to shoot from range, sinking a triple with teammate Josh Aitcheson quickly following up on his good work to also slot a triple and reduce the margin to one point once again. Steadily drawing closer, Wilson held his nerve laying an impressive dunk and the converting again moments later for the Huskies. Despite the best efforts of Kenny, Auckland seemed unfazed, going about their business until Akiva McBirney-Griffin slammed one home for Otago to level the scores with just under seven minutes remaining in the term. The increased intensity saw the ball bubble around with both teams struggling to hit the scoreboard but it was Murray to break the stalemate first and send his side somewhat into a scoring spree. Murray was involved in everything, while Henry also chimed in, pushing the Huskies out to an 11-point lead but the Nuggets refused to give in stringing together a solid couple of minutes to dwindle the lead back down to six at half-time.

Continuing their hot start to the game, it did not take long for Mauriohooho Le’Afa to convert and extend the lead for Auckland. Having somewhat of a quieter quarter, Smith-Milner quickly got back into the thick of things while the Nuggets struggled to maintain possession with a couple of sloppy passes and missed shots at goal. Murray found his stroke from beyond the arc, sinking a nice three while for the Nuggets, Ngatai and Aitcheson stood up under the pressure to draw back the lead. The combination of Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Murray was proving too hard to handle for Otago, with the duo running rings around their opposition. Much like the patch in the second quarter, both sides were at a standstill unable to knock back points and feeling each other out. But it was the Nuggets that blinked first, gifting the Huskies with a chance to stream down court and convert for the first time in over two minutes. With the lead out at 13 points, the Nuggets looked to the bench to provide some fresh legs but it was Rogers that delivered sinking a much needed triple before Ngatai got his side back within seven points. But a big shot from Reuben Fitzgerald, stopped the Nuggets in their tracks heading into the final change.

Kenny upped the ante in defence with a clever block finished off by Ngatai who gobbled up the rebound but simply could not convert. With a sense of urgency in their play and desperation to win ball back and score the Nuggets line-up contested everything that came their way but were plagued by inaccuracy, while the Huskies withstood that rush of momentum as Smith-Milner continued his merry way nailing back-to-back threes. Extending the lead to 14 points at the half way mark of the final term, Ngatai and Aitcheson took control for the Nuggets but it was simply not enough to offset the Huskies who could sense their second win. Despite a strong couple of minutes from Otago to reduce the margin to a mere eight points the closest they had been in the second half, Williams-Dunn crushed any hopes nailing the next four points.

Ngatai dominated for the Nuggets, sinking a team high 19 points along with eight rebounds and three assists. The next closest for the Nuggets was Hunt with 12 points and seven rebounds while Aitcheson managed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. For the Huskies, Murray showcased his scoring prowess with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists to his name. Teammate Smith-Milner was hot on his tail when it came to scoreboard contribution with 17 while his 10 defensive rebounds capped off a stellar performance. Mauriohooho Le’Afa and Henry also managed double digits for their side with 12 and 11 points respectively but it was Henry’s rebounding ability that really shone recording 14 for the night, in what was a team effort from the bottom of the table Huskies.

Nelson’s giant third quarter puts down Huskies

NELSON Giants’ big third term saw them accelerate away from Auckland Huskies and ensure they won back-to-back games thanks to an eight-point win last night. The Giants scored 28 points, but held their opponents to just 11, handing them a 23-point lead at the final break, enough to hold off a fast-finishing Auckland side that won the last term, 29-14. There were some big outs for either side with Mika Vukona still sidelined following appendix surgery and Leon Henry serving his one-game suspension he suffered in the Huskies’ solitary win against Taranaki. In the end, the Giants were a touch better for longer winning 91-83.

AUCKLAND HUSKIES 20 | 23 | 11 | 29 (83)
NELSON GIANTS 20 | 29 | 28 | 14 (91)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

Continuing his hot form since his return, Mike Karena won the tip for the Giants and found himself with the ball inside where Henry’s replacement starter Nathan Wilson met him at the cup with a big block, although Karena recovered it and scored the game’s first points with a baseline jumper. Building some momentum in his first start on the season, Wilson would make his away inside with a silky drive which drew the foul and his one for two makes at the line would be the first for Auckland.

Having shaken off his quarantine rust in his last game, Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa would open his scoring account with a pretty floater which would ignite the spark on his incredible first half of play. Not so prettily, however, Karena would find himself with two fouls early as big man Tohi Smith-Milner would draw the charge on the next play, with some Karena displeasure with the official drawing a technical foul next to his name. After just two minutes of play, Nelson’s star player would find a spot on the pine.

Back-to-back triples from Mauriohooho Le’afa and young gun Taine Murray saw the Huskies gain an early lead, as a smaller and more athletic starting five inevitably resulted in faster transitions from Auckland. The Giants would slowly start to claw their way back into the game through Josh Leger – who came in for Karena – and his seven-point opening term. He kept his spot in the team despite Thane O’Leary returning from injury, with the decision paying off for Mike Fitchett and his Giants.

A Mauriohooho Le’afa steal would lead to a huge baseline cut and slam for Wilson on the back of a no-look pass from Marvin Williams-Dunn, a beautiful highlight play in what was otherwise a quiet night for him. Trading buckets for the remainder of the term, Smith-Milner made a tough finish inside which finished the quarter with the scores tied at 20. Poor shooting from Nelson allowed the early deficit, but some rigid defence kept them in the game as they forced six turnovers from Auckland early.

Dane Brooks would start the second quarter athletically with a big block, a steal and a layup setting the tone for the Giants’ next two quarters. With small ball paying off early offensively for the Huskies, the Giants knew they had to take advantage of the absence of Henry on Auckland’s defensive end. Zeb Lovell targeted a leaner Wilson in the post on multiple occasions, a clear indication of the Giants desire to attack the paint going forward.

Nelson come hard out of the gates despite another athletic defensive play from Wilson. Their scoring continued to come from inside the paint as the Huskies were playing too tight defensively on the perimeter despite Nelson’s inefficiency from deep, with the Giants blowing past the defenders. The start saw them get out to an eight-point lead, with the return of Karena leading you to believe it would get worse for the Huskies. Mauriohooho Le’afa did not care for that as he would steal the show, scoring on the Huskies’ next four possessions which included three triples and a long two. The game began to heat up physically alongside the scorching hot Mauriohooho Le’afa who would end the first half with a whopping 26 points, courtesy of six threes.

The two teams would continue to trade baskets down the last stretch of the first half, although some Brooks hustle with the Giants small ball would end the half and the second quarter the way he started with a big swat, a steal from the inbound and an assist to a Josh Bloxham layup taking us into half time. Despite Mauriohooho Le’afa, the Giants would lead 49-43 with 20 points from the bench no doubt a contributing factor, as well as attacking inside as they got to the line and earned 22 points in the paint for the half.

A one-man show for the first half, the Huskies needed more contributions in the absence of Henry, but contributions from anyone was scarce for the third quarter. Karena would start the quarter having just played three and a half minutes in the first half and his impact was on display immediately with a steal and assist leading to a Bloxham three. A nine-point scoring run would take the lead out to 15 before a Murray triple would settle things down. The settling was only momentary, however, as their next score would not come for another three minutes.

The Giants played deny ball defence on Mauriohooho Le’afa early as the performance of the two teams went in opposite directions. Nelson’s active ball movement was quick and efficient as Auckland’s one-on-one offense was not paying dividends.

Leger’s five points and a corner three from Johnson down the stretch would give Nelson a near insurmountable 23-point lead heading into the last break, ending an abysmal 28-11 quarter the Huskies would rather forget.

Mauriohooho Le’afa missed his only two shots for the quarter as Williams-Dunn remained scoreless on the game. The Huskies were beginning to wonder where their next points would come from as Karena would re-enter the game – an even more worrying sign for them.

Needing to throw whatever they had left at the Giants if they wanted to have any chance of coming close, the Huskies got the start they were after with Nicholas Brophy getting to the line, and a Wilson steal following that and resulting in a Mauriohooho Le’afa three. Their newfound momentum was quickly halted with Brooks being fouled on a three-point attempt, as the Huskies struggled to string together consecutive stops.

Trading baskets for most of the final quarter, the Huskies found a final gear as they managed a 10-0 run within a minute, but it was too little too late. Despite the single digit loss, it was a convincing win for the Giants as they now find themselves third on the ladder at the conclusion of week two having won 83-91.

Leger (14 points) and Tom Ingham (14 points, two steals) were among the best for the Giants as Karena (10 points) was kept quiet due to foul trouble.

Mauriohooho Le’afa was fantastic with 32 points at 50 per cent from the field, while Wilson (10 points, seven rebounds) and Murray (16 points) were also serviceable. The return of Henry will be welcomed for their match against the Nuggets on Tuesday as they will look for more performers to scrape them off the bottom of the ladder.

Huskies claim first scalp of the season with impressive win

YET to register a win this season, the Auckland Huskies pulled out their bag of tricks, getting the job done against the Taranaki Mountainairs in the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown. With the lead getting out to as much as 20 points plus throughout the game the Huskies walked away with a 16 point victory (109-93). The Huskies were on song from the opening quarter finding their shooting stroke and making the Airs pay with their accuracy from both inside and outside the arc.

TARANAKI MOUNTAINAIRS 28 | 16 | 20 | 29 (93)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 32 | 34 | 21 | 22 (109)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The Huskies struck first with Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa taking no time at all to assert himself on the game, draining a three after what was a disappointing outing the game before. Mauriohoohoo Le’afa proved to not only be a real playmaker in the opening quarter but so too scoring prospect with his ability to shoot from range or dish off to teammates. For the Airs, Derone Raukawa was solid, opening the account for his side with an important shot but his efforts were quickly quashed with Mauriohoohoo Le’afa and Taine Murray draining back-to-back threes to open up a seven point lead with just over seven and a half minutes left in the term.

Despite the best efforts of the Airs, the Huskies refused to take their foot off the pedal pressing at every opportunity and most importantly converting. Marcel Jones slowly started to build into the game, finding his rhythm to basket and knocking back a crucial three to reduce the margin to 10 points. From there on the Airs seemed to wrestle some momentum back from their opponents stringing together some strong passages of play with Raukawa and Jones having a huge influence. With the margin hovering at the 10 point mark the Huskies tried to pull away pushing out it out to 11 points but the Airs did not lie down instead a Kenneth Tuffin inspired couple of minutes saw the lead diminish to five points, after sinking a huge three pointer and proving he was here to play. The intensity lifted from both sides, with neither willing to give an inch. 

Despite getting within one point in the opening minute of the quarter thanks to a handy long bomb from Jones, the Huskies snaffled that pressure, denying the Airs any opportunity to go to the rim only managing a mere 16 points for the term. Auckland simply had a hand in everything, spearheaded by Mauriohooho Le’afa who was causing headaches for the Airs across the boards. Australian NBL Melbourne Boomers player Tohi Smith-Milner showcased his skill getting involved in the action to put some points on the board and establish a more commanding lead for the Huskies.

Moments later Leon Henry lent his hand to the points scoring tally with a jump shot while Mauriohooho Le’afa continued his merry way, finding the basket with ease. For the Airs, Raukawa and Jones plied their trade, working tirelessly to win ball back and apply offensive pressure but simply could not do enough to worry the Huskies who seemed in control. Tuffin and Tai Wynyard also impressed in the early stages of the quarter but were quickly overrun with the Huskies exploiting their opponents’ every weakness. Murray was a constant for Auckland with Nathan Wilson also contributing. Within a blink of an eye the Huskies were out to a commanding lead notching up 66 points at half time and shooting at 71 per cent in what was a complete turnaround from their outing on Sunday. 

Holding a 22-point lead the Huskies did not look like giving up any time soon and despite both sides going toe-to-toe throughout the term did not lose their cool. Wynyard landed the first blow of the second half, converting a free throw while teammate Denhym Brooke chimed in moments later with another free throw to get back within 20 points. But it did not take long for Auckland to find their range with Smith-Milner imposing himself.

The ball bubbled about with both teams almost going goal for goal throughout the team. Despite having a wealth of the play in the mid part of the quarter the Airs simply could not convert, letting the Huskies off the hook multiple times. Efforts from Henry and Murray  did not go unnoticed for Auckland with the two getting their hands to plenty of ball but a flurry from the Mountainairs in the final five minutes of the quarter provided plenty of excitement with Taranaki dwindling the margin down to the lowest of the second half to 15.

Anamata Haku delivered the settler for the Huskies sparking his side back into attack while Wilson also got busy with less than two minutes left on the clock. Heading into the final change the Huskies held a 23-point buffer with Mauriohooho Le’afa wreaking havoc. 

With their first win in sight the Huskies put pedal to the medal but it was not without pressure as the Airs worked to reduce the margin. Strong performances from the likes of Tuffin and Jones the Mountainairs seemed to find their groove in offence able to hit the scoreboard while Mitchell Dance provided a much needed spark sinking them from inside the post with confidence.

After somewhat of a quiet game Francis Mulvihill also found his stroke delivering a crucial three-pointer to get his side back within 18 points. Following in Mulvihill’s footsteps, Raukawa knocked one back from down town with the deficit standing at 15 points with five minutes to go. With the Airs coming hard, Mauriohooho Le’afa stood up to push the margin back out before Shane Temara sunk back-to-back threes to give his side a fighting chance with the deficit standing at 10 points but it was little too late with the Huskies doing enough earlier in the game to secure their inaugural win. 

The scoring was shared for the Airs with Raukawa and Tuffin finishing with 19 points apiece while Raukawa dished off nine dimes for the game. Recording a double-double for his efforts Jones collected 13 rebounds to go with his 14 points with teammate Mulvihill the only other to reach double figures with 11. For the Huskies it is no surprise that Mauriohooho Le’afa took out the number top scorer with 20 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Next best was Henry who like Jones collected a double-double finishing with 18 points and 14 rebounds but his performance was marred by an incident with Raukawa. Henry was charged with “unduly rough play” and offered a two game suspension for his actions. Three other players also hit double points with Smith-Milner registering 16 while Murray and Wilson sunk 15 apiece in a strong outing by the Huskies. 

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.

Canterbury overcomes setbacks to Ram home win against Huskies

TWO of your first three draft selections ruled out for the season in the week leading up the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) competition? No worries for Canterbury Rams who stepped up last night to post an eye-opening 32-point win over Auckland Huskies. The Rams had to rejig the look of their side in the wake of season-ending injuries to Jack Salt and Joe Cook-Green, but the most cohesive team – having played together more than any other side – looked in-sync and like a title threat this year. Aside from a second term fightback from the Huskies, the Rams were in control for the majority of the game, enjoying a 102-70 victory to kick-start their year.

CANTERBURY RAMS 29 | 17 | 24 | 32 (102)
AUCKLAND HUSKIES 12 | 20 | 16 | 22 (70)

[ … FULL MATCH STATS … ]

The match started with experienced veteran and Huskies captain, Leon Henry reading an Alex Talma pass then giving it off to Marvin Williams-Dunn for the first score on the board. After missing a three-point attempt, Toby Gillooly produced a neat lay-up to register the Rams’ first score of 2020. Henry and Perth Wildcats development player, Taylor Britt both traded two-points, as Canterbury used its first substitution to bring on Thomas Webley. That decision paid dividends as he picked up a rebound almost immediately then sank a turnaround jump shot, whilst Britt ran the court and put up another layup.

The Rams were starting to take control as the Huskies could not manage to find their range with accuracy. When Gillooly drained a three-point jumper in the seventh minute of the term, the Rams’ lead was out to 12. In the last 90 seconds, Canterbury showed they were not content with a minor lead as they piled on nine points to two to head into the first break with a 29-12 lead.

The second term started as it had finished with Britt sinking two baskets, whilst veteran Rashid Al Kaleem scored either side of the break for the Huskies. Johnny Fesolai managed to get the Huskies back a little with a two-point layup and the and-one basket from the line, but again the Rams raced away to extend the lead by out to 22 points four minutes into the term.

Young gun Taine Murray started to make his presence felt with four consecutive points to drag it back to 18, but then Gillooly returned serve and the Rams were away to the largest lead of the game – 23 points. Back-to-back triples from Tohi Smith-Milner reminded the crowd the game was far from over as the Huskies clawed to within 14 at the main break, but Canterbury was still in control.

All the work the Huskies had done was threatened to be undone early as Sam Smith and Mac Stodart were the first two on the board in the second half. Smith-Milner came back with another converted and-one opportunity, before Gillooly’s superb game continued as he applied pressure to the opposition with an important layup, drilling seven points in the term. Each time the Huskies threw down a challenge, the Rams responded with some class of their own, and the 24-16 term resulted in Canterbury extending the lead out to 22 by the final break and needing a special effort from Auckland to get back into the contest.

Nathan Wilson and Jaylen Gerrand tried their best early with the first four points of the term to cut the deficit back to 18, but the star of the show in Britt stepped up again, and settled the team. The sides traded blows midway through the term, with 21 points in the fourth minute as close as the Huskies got from then on. Talma, Britt, Jack Exeter, Mason Whittaker and Webley scored 14 straight points for the Rams to put the final nail in the Huskies’ coffin.

Murray, Anamata Haku and Wilson managed to cut the margin back a little, with Gerrand’s trey with three seconds remaining – matching that of Whittaker’s triple four seconds earlier – ending the match with the Huskies going down by 32 points in the second game of the competition.

Britt was simply outstanding in a best on court effort, sinking 22 points at a 55 per cent efficiency, whilst also picking up eight rebounds and an assist. Gillooly was equally strong, adding a match-high 25 points, along with six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in the win. Exeter (13 points, two rebounds and two steals) was strong off the bench, whilst Webley had seven points and seven rebounds, and Smith with the seven points, six rebounds and four assists.

For the Huskies, they were missing their top selection in Izayah Mauriohooho Le’afa, but still struggled with connection compared to their rivals, understandable considering the minimal time the team has had together. Smith-Milner scored 15 points, four rebounds, two steals and one assist in the clear standout for Auckland, whilst Wilson finished strong with 10 points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Both Murray (seven points at 20 per cent efficiency) and Henry (two points at 11 per cent efficiency) will be keen to sharpen up their shooting for the next game, though the pair still managed a combined 10 rebounds and five assists.

Canterbury have a night off today before fronting up against a Franklin Bulls outfit tomorrow night, whilst the Huskies have back-to-back matches on the weekend, starting with Manawatu Jets on Saturday.

2020 Auckland Huskies season preview: Blend of experience and youth to set the court alight

RETURNING for their second season in the New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL), the Auckland Huskies have put together a team ready to compete. From the 37-year-old Rashid Al-Kareem down to the teenage future star of Taine Murray, the Huskies have plenty to like about their 2020 Sal’s NBL Showdown list.

Entering the draft last of the seven teams, the Huskies had the first opportunity to draft back-to-back players onto their list and opted with Izayah Mauriahooho-Le’afa and Tohi Smith-Milner who provide that big and small combination. Huskies General Manager, Matt Lacey said the reasoning behind selecting the talented Mauriahooho-Le’afa with their first pick was as much about what he offered off the court as to what he offered on it.

“At just 16 years old he became one of the youngest players to put on a Tall Blacks singlet and played 44 games for the Wellington Saints before heading to Sacramento State University on a four-year scholarship,” Lacey said. “We had a variety of feedback from a number of player and coaches, all of whom spoke highly of his maturity before heading to college so four years on we expect him to be a polished performer who can lead our team.

“He finished his Hornets career in 2020 as a Top 10 programme leader in a variety of statistical categories including second in starts (108), fourth in steals (149), sixth in 3-pointers made (187) and eighth in assists (302). “His 941 career points ranks 20th all-time for SSU.”

Not only will the talented college star play a role on the court through his own game, but also mentoring young star, Murray off it.

“Taine is likely heading to college in the USA in the future so he can pick Izayah’s brain,” head coach Kevin Braswell said. “Izayah has just returned from an outstanding four-year college career at Sacramento State University so he can pick his brain during practice, after practice, and in the hotel – they are going to be around each other for six weeks. “Izayah will also take a lot of pressure off Taine.”

The Huskies have been able to add plenty of talent on the court including New Zealand Breakers’ Director of Player Development, Al-Kareem – who will add veteran smarts to the rotation in the three and four spots – and the experienced leader in Leon Henry to the fold. Others who Lacey is excited about include another experienced player in Johnny Fesolai, and a young duo in Marvin Williams-Dunn and Nate Wilson.

“We want to play a fast and open style,” Lacey said. “We will utilise the shooting and playmaking ability of the guys we have secured. “With a mix of experience (Leon, Rashid, Johnny) and youth (Taine, Marvin, Nate) we feel like we have a great blend of talent to rotate throughout the intensive six-week period.”

AUCKLAND HUSKIES FOUR TO WATCH:

Izayah Mauriahooho-Le’afa (07/11/1996 | PG | 188cm | 90kg)

The first selection in the Sal’s NBL Player Draft was a talented point guard coming straight out of college and returning to his home nation. Born in Wellington, Mauriohooho-Le’afa represented the Sacramento State Hornets where he averaged 10.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.8 steals per game. He shot at a 37.2 per cent clip from the field, and improved on his numbers from the season before. He will likely be that starting point guard who is able to be a prominent scorer on both the inside and outside, with his accuracy from long range last season being a high 36.9 per cent. Being taken as the Huskies’ first ever draft pick, Mauriahooho-Le’afa will be a real player to watch in the season with high expectations on his shoulders.

Tohi Smith-Milner (06/10/1995 | PF/C | 205cm | 112kg)

Considering the way the Huskies drafted in the first five, expect the Melbourne United big man to roll into the five position with the 205cm, 112kg Tall Black able to play out of the four or five positions. In the Australian NBL, Smith-Milner averaged the 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in season 2019/20 starting in three games but playing in a massive 27, improving on his previous season with United. He was more dominant at the lower NBL1 level where he started all 21 games for Kilsyth Cobras, dropping 15.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists. For a 200cm+ players, Smith-Milner is not afraid to go for long range bombs, averaging 36 per cent from outside the arc to go with his 49 per cent from inside it.

Leon Henry (14/10/1985 | PF/SF | 201cm | 100kg)

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, Henry was announced as the Franklin Bulls captain after being the newest side’s first ever signing. A six-time NZNBL champion and three-time ANBL champion, the 34-year-old Tall Black has experience that clubs cannot buy. He is a showman who is capable of just about anything on the court being the All-Time three-point record holder and a dominant rebounder, as well as a former ANBL Dunk Champion. With his success and experience, Henry will provide great experience to the younger Huskies, and someone who can lead the offence. He averaged 10.45 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.65 assists last season for the champions, Wellington Saints and can play out of the three or four position.

Taine Murray (19/04/2002 | SG | 196cm | 89kg)

After picking a veteran guard with the previous pick, the Huskies opted for a teenage guard with the next selection. They picked up the 18-year-old Murray who has a big future ahead of him despite his raw nature. Having already represented the Tall Blacks on a couple of occasions, the Rosmini College graduate was originally named to compete at the FIBA Under-17 Oceania Championships in August. Whilst he might be young, Murray will likely hold down that starting shooting guard position and provide electrifying highlights on court. The teenager has some break-neck speed to break down opposition defences and is not afraid to use the one-hand dunk with some fantastic aerial abilities.

HEAD COACH KEVIN BRASWELL ON WHAT THE HUSKIES ARE HOPING TO GET FROM HIM IN THE SEASON HEAD:

“I’m going to need Taine to deliver every night, and score. He’s not a guy we are bringing off the bench or thinking he’s going to play five or 10 minutes, he’s a guy who will probably play 25 minutes a night. “We want him to capitalise on this opportunity. He’s a kid who has worked so hard to get to the level he is at now and I believe the sky’s the limit for him.”

The Huskies begin their campaign against Canterbury Rams next Tuesday in the second game of the opening night. In what is ultimately a condensed season, Lacey is excited about what the next month and a half holds for the franchise.

“We feel great,” Lacey said. “It has been awesome to get all the guys in together. Coach Aaron Young has done a fantastic job with getting everyone on the same page while we wait for KB (Braswell) to finish out his two week quarantine stint. “It is hard to believe we are only five days away from tip-off but everything is coming together.”

2020 SAL’S NBL AUCKLAND HUSKIES INFORMATION:

FULL LIST:

Izayah Mauriahoohoo Leafa
Tohi Smith Milner
Leon Henry
Taine Murray
Rashid Al-Kaleem
Tinashe Matambanadzo
Ana Haku
Johnny Fesolai
Marvin Williams-Dunn
Jaylen Gerrand
Nick Brophy
Nathan Wilson

FIXTURE:

Tuesday June 23 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Saturday June 27 vs Jets @ 5:30pm
Sunday June 28 vs Bulls @ 5:30pm
Tuesday June 30 vs Airs @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 5 vs Giants @ 5:30pm
Tuesday July 7 vs Nuggets @ 5:30pm
Thursday July 9 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Sunday July 12 vs Jets @ 5:30pm
Tuesday July 14 vs Bulls @ 5:30pm
Thursday July 16 vs Airs @ 5:30pm
Sunday July 19 vs Giants @ 5:30pm
Tuesday July 21 vs Nuggets @ 7:30pm
Wednesday July 22 vs Rams @ 7:30pm
Saturday July 25 vs Jets @ 7:30pm

2020 Sal’s NBL Team-by-team lists

THE 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Showdown is ready and raring to go with all seven teams not having completed their lists for the upcoming season. The Player Draft was completed last Thursday, and while three days of Trade Period did not not see a move made, a couple of players had to change sides due to college restrictions. Now that is done and dusted, teams are all set for the first tip-off in eight days. The teams all arrive in Auckland on Friday, June 19 with the opening round to run from Tuesday, June 23 through until Sunday, June 28.

Check out the full team lists below.

Auckland Huskies

Izayah Mauriahoohoo Leafa
Tohi Smith Milner
Leon Henry
Taine Murray
Rasheed Al-Kaleem
Tinashe Matambanadzo
Ana Haku
Johnny Fesolai
Marvin Williams-Dunn
Jaylen Gerrand
Nick Brophy
Nathan Wilson

Manawatu Jets

Tom Vodanovich
Hyrum Harris
Jayden Bezzant
Taane Samuel
Nick Fee
Haize Walker
Tia Temata-Frost
Ashton McQueen
Matangirei Hipango
Josiah Laracy
Nelson Kirksey
Kalib Mullins

Taranaki Mountainairs 

Derone Raukawa
Marcel Jones
Shane Temara
Tai Wynyard
Mitch Dance
Francis Mulvihill
Kenneth Tuffin
Denhym Brooke
Zac Easthope
Oscar Robertson
Carlin Davison
Baxter Fenwick

Canterbury Rams

Jack Salt
Taylor Britt
Joe Cook-Green
Alex Talma
Sam Smith
Toby Gilloly
Jack Exeter
Tom Cowie
Thomas Webley
Mac Stodart
Ben Carlile-Smith
Mason Whittaker

Nelson Giants

Mika Vukona
Mike Karena
Dane Brooks
Tom Ingham
Josh Bloxham
Nick Trathen
Riley Bensemann
Tysxun Aiolupotea
Zeb Lovell
Thane O’Leary
Theo Johnson
Tommy Garguilo

Franklin Bulls

Dominique Kelman-Poto
Sam Timmins
Everard Bartlett
Jackson Stubbins
Isaac Davidson
Nick Barrow
Joel Vaiangina
Nikau McCullough
Connor Woodbridge
Joe Reddish
Chris McIntosh
Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape

Otago Nuggets

Jordan Ngatai
Jarrod Kenny
Jordan Hunt
Kane Keil
Josh Aitcheson
Benoit Hayman
Darcy Knox
Richie Rodger
Sam Aruwa
Akiva McBirnie-Griffin
Jack Andrew
Matthew Bardsley

NZNBL Player Draft: Team-by-Team picks

YESTERDAY the 2020 Sal’s National Basketball League (NBL) Player Draft was run and done with the 84 players who will take part in this year’s New Zealand NBL selected. Otago Nuggets made history being the first team to read out a drafted selection, taking Jordan Ngatai. The first five rounds were completed within an hour and the rest completed a couple of hours later.

With the lists set, now teams could go to the Trade Table over the next few days, concluding on Sunday. Given the high volume of pre-selections that could have taken place – only clubs are aware of the pre-selected players – there is a chance that some clubs were able to bid higher to gain another talent that an opposition player might have wanted. A couple of examples of players to switch allegiances from last season was Mike Karena joining Mika Vukona at the Nelson Giants after being picked up in the second round. The Rams could have picked up Karena after he was a scoring machine for them last year, but had to prioritise Jack Salt and Taylor Britt, allowing the Giants to swoop in and take Vukona. Another example is Manawatu Jets’ co-captain Jackson Stubbins landing at the Franklin Bulls. The Sky Sports coverage at the draft selection mentioned some uncertainty around Stubbins’ availability and work commitments so the Jets chose not to pre-select him. However he could be another the Jets try and get back in the green, black and white.

Following the three-day trade period, teams will finalise their team lists by Sunday night, before players converge on Auckland next Friday, August 19 for the competition to begin the following Tuesday, June 23.

TEAM-BY-TEAM:

Auckland Huskies:

7. Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa
8. Tohi Smith-Milner
21. Leon Henry
22. Taine Murray
35. Rashid Al Kareem
36. Tinashe Matambanadzo
49. Ana Haku
50. Johnny Fesolai
63. Marvin Williams-Dunn
64. Jaylen Gerrand
77. Nick Brophy
78. Nathan Wilson

Canterbury Rams:

5. Jack Salt
10. Taylor Britt
19. Joe Cook-Green
24. Alex Talma
33. Sam Smith
38. Toby Gillooly
47. Jack Exeter
52. Tom Cowie
61. Tom Webley
66. Mac Stodart
75. Ben Carlisle-Smith
80. Mason Whittaker

Franklin Bulls: 

6. Dom Kelman-Poto
9. Sam Timmins
20. Everard Bartlett
23. Jackson Stubbins
34. Isaac Davidson
37. Nick Barrow
48. Joel Vaiangina
51. Nikau McCullough
62. Connor Woodbridge
65. Joe Reddish
76. Chris McIntosh
79. Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape

Manawatu Jets:

3. Tom Vodanovich
12. Hyrum Harris
17. Jayden Bezzant
26. Taane Samuel
31. Nick Fee
40. Haize Walker
45. Tia Tamata-Frost
54. Ashton McQueen
59. Matangirei Hipango
68. Josiah Laracy
73. Tom Power
82. Caleb Mullins

Nelson Giants:

4. Mika Vukona
11. Mike Karena
18. Dane Brooks
25. Tom Ingham
32. Josh Bloxham
39. Nic Trathan
46. Riley Bensemann
53. Tysxun Aiolupotea
60. Zeb Lovell
67. Thane O’Leary
74. Theo Johnson
81. Tommy Gargiulo

Otago Nuggets:

1. Jordan Ngatai
14. Jarrod Kenny
15. Jordan Hunt
28. Kane Keil
29. Josh Aitcheson
42. Benoit Hayman
43. Darcy Knox
56. Richard Roger
57. Sam Aruwa
70. Akiva McBirney-Griffin
71. Jack Andrews
84. Matthew Bardsley

Taranaki Mountainairs:

2. Derone Raukawa (PG/SG, 181/80)
13. Marcel Jones (SF/PF, 203/99)
16. Shane Temara (PF, 206/102)
27. Tai Wynyard (PF/C, 208/116)
30. Mitchell Dance (SF, 193/)
41. Francis Mulvihill
44. Kenneth Tuffin
55. Denhym Brooke
58. Will Heather
69. Oscar Robertson
72. Carlin Davidson
83. Baxter Fenwick