CAPITAL Swish have announced themselves as a genuine title contender, defeating reigning champions Auckland Dream in the 2020 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 18IN18 competition last night. The Swish came into the night with a 1-1 record having knocked off the Canterbury Wildcats, but lost to Harbour Breeze, while the Dream had also accounted for the Wildcats, as well as Waikato Wizards on opening night.
For the majority of the contest there was not much between them, but a sensational final term and the last seven points of the night went to the Swish, to celebrate a remarkable win. A big last term from Grace Simi Vaofusi – scoring 12 of her team’s 27 points – and a double-double from Letava Whippy were massive differences, leaving the Dream needing to regroup ahead of their final two matches and giving the Swish the upper hand when it came to a top two place in the semi-finals.
From the opening tip-off it was clear the Swish were not going to be pushovers, as Vaofusi and Maia Jean Watene both scored baskets in the opening two minutes whilst the usually reliable Amanda Wayment missed free throws, and three of her teammates also missed jump shot opportunities. Instead it was Wayment who got on the board as the time ticked down with eight on the clock, making the layup to make their fourth shot attempt through a layup, drawing contact and this time producing the And-One chance.
Wayment scored her side’s first five points of the match, as she levelled the scores following Whippy’s 50 per cent strike from the free throw line. Then Sharne Robati put her team in front with a couple of successful free throws, but it proved only temporary as Paris Lokotui and Watene got involved for the Swish to regain the lead. Arielle Williams-Mackey – who was he most prolific scorer in the opening two matches for the Dream – finally got on the board with a long-range bomb, and the teams traded blows.The Swish were a little more accurate later in the term to score seven of the last nine points, with Sariah Penese‘s last minute layup putting her side up by four at the first break, 16-12.
That momentum carried into the second with Vaofusi again having a red-hot start putting up the first four points of the quarter to blow the lead out to eight points and an upset was brewing. Casyn Buchman settled the nerves for the Dream with a vital layup, but again the Swish responded with the next five points including back-to-back layups through Dalen Pilitati and Jyodanna Davey respectively for the lead to hit double-figures midway through the quarter.
Needing a response, the Dream got it through a triple from Robati, an Olivia Berry layup and then four points from Williams-Mackey through free throws and a layup to roar back to within two points in an 9-0 run. Vaofusi halted that with an important basket, and a Pilitati triple following a Williams-Mackey layup and the Swish were back out to a five-point buffer. A last minute jumper from Rionne Papa cut the Dream’s deficit to three at half-time with the Swish up, 30-27.
Entering the third term, both teams traded baskets one after the other and each team the Swish managed to get some momentum, the Dream pegged them back. Whippy was providing plenty of resistance close to the basket, getting the layup, copping the contact and slotting the And-One chance to extend it out to six points, only for a Buchman triple to start a remarkable dream run of 12 consecutive points. Papa and Williams- Mackey added four of those each, and from a six-point deficit, the Dream were suddenly ahead by six points.
Despite it looking like the Dream were going to run away with the contest, Whippy and Lokotui had other ideas with back-to-back baskets before Taulelei hit the game-leveller with just over two minutes on the clock. Buchman responded with a triple, but was countered by Grace Gordon with a long-range success of her own. By the three quarter time buzzer, the teams could not be split at 49-apiece.
Initially Wayment hit the first jumper of the final term to hand her team the lead, but the next seven points of the game went the way of the Swish. The momentum-swinging contest went back the other way, as the Dream came from a five-point deficit to hit eight consecutive points of their own and lead by three with just over five minutes remaining. Back-to-back triples for the Swish just provided some breathing space, as Vaofusi and Lokotui were on song.
Williams-Mackey would produce a layup and then follow up with the And-One chance with 67 seconds left on the clock and her team just three points down. Only 22 seconds later, Te Huinga Selby-Rickett would score her first points of the night to extend the lead out to five for the Swish, and back-to-back three-point attempts went begging from Williams-Mackey and Buchman which proved costly. Gordon and Vaofusi had the final say of the contest, scoring the last five points of the game to lock in a 10-point victory 76-66.
The Swish were far more accurate from the field, hitting three more chances from six less shots, shooting at 42 per cent compared to 34 per cent. They also won the rebounds (52-47) and blocks (3-2), but were level in assists and second chance points, while the Dream had three less turnovers (15-18) and and an additional steal (11-10).
Vaofusi hit 21 points, and had four assists, three steals, two rebounds and a block in a big performance, but it was Whippy who notched up a stunning double-double of 15 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block. Lokotui had a big last term to finish with eight points and six rebounds, while Gordon (eight points, four rebounds) and Davey (seven points, three rebounds) were prominent off the bench.
For the Dream, Williams-Mackey finished with a team-high 16 points, accompanying two rebounds, two assists and one steal, while Robati had the most impact, shooting at a higher clip of 42 per cent to finish with 15 points. Robati also had nine rebounds – seven offensive two assists and two steals on the night. Buchman (13 points, six rebounds) and Papa (10 points, three rebounds and one steal) reached double-figure points, while Wayment (seven points, eight rebounds) provided support off the boards.
The Swish have the chance to back up with a match against Otago Gold Rush tonight, before the Dream return tomorrow night hoping to bounce back, also against the Gold Rush.