OTAGO Gold Rush remain in contention for a New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNL) 18IN18 semi-finals spot after toppling Capital Swish by 10 points. A night after Capitals Swish toppled reigning premiers Auckland Dream by that exact margin, the Swish were on the back foot, trying to get back into the game after falling as much as 15 points behind. While they won the last term, it was a case of too little, too late and the Gold Rush got up, 58-48.
Otago’s Zoe Richards started the night with the first basket, and quickly made it two after a response from Swish’s previous night hero, Grace Simi Vaofusi. The Gold Rush got out to a four-point lead with Lisa Wallbutton and then Richards (up to six points), either side of Letava Whippy free throws. Back-to-back baskets for the Swish through Lilly Taulelei and Grace Gordon resulted in their side hitting the front with four minutes on the clock.
A lower scoring second half of the term saw just seven points scoring, with four of them coming from Savanna Handevidt, with her last basket putting her team in front with 11 seconds remaining in the first term. That momentum carried into the second as Bronwyn Kjestrup, Wallbutton and Te Araroa Sopoaga all scored in the opening two-and-a-half-minutes, with Wallbutton adding both her free throws not long after. Since being 8-9 down late in the first term, the Gold Rush had scored 13-2 and were now 10 points up three minutes into the second.
Grace Gordon broke the drought for the Swish, scoring moments later, then Maia Jean Watene made it back-to-back baskets for the Swish since midway through the first quarter. Sensing the momentum was turning, Sopoaga took it upon herself to get aggressive at the basket, making three consecutive layups, and by the third time copped contact off Gordon and then made the And-One chance.
The lead was out to 13 points with three-and-a-half minutes left in the quarter when Handevidt hit a jumper, and despite Te Huinga Selby-Rickit making back-to-back jumpers for her side, the Swish were on the back foot. Taulelei and Selby-Rickit cut the deficit to seven in the final minute, with the latter now up to six points, before Tara Clement scored a timely layup with 15 seconds left on the clock for a nine-point lead at half-time.
The first basket of the second half was always going to be important, and it was Handevidt who hit one of her two free throws to make the margin double-digits. Watene responded two minutes into the quarter, before Richards and Hayley Gray – the latter was fouled whilst taking a long-range shot – blew the lead right out to a game-high 13 points. Samantha Jenkins responded for the Swish with a triple of her own, but despite the Swish getting within nine points, yet another triple, this time from Richards, as well as a layup from Handevidt had the margin back out 15.
With less than three minutes on the clock, the Swish needed to do something, and Taulelei hit a vital jump shot, but her side could not hit the range, with Olivia O’Neill the only other player to score in the final two minutes, extending the Gold Rush’s advantage out to 15 at the final break, 46-31.
Needing an immediate response, the Swish had one through Sariah Penesse‘s triple in the opening 12 seconds of the match. The deficit was back to 12, but for every move the Swish made, the Gold Rush had answers, be it long range bombs, or getting to the basket and heading to the charity stripe. When Clement hit a three-point jumper with four-and-a-half minutes on the clock, the game looked to be in the Gold Rush’s keeping.
Both sides held up defensively, and whilst the Gold Rush only hit two free throws in the final minutes – and the Swish piled on seven points – the job was done and Otago celebrated a season-defining 10-point win, 58-48 to remain in the semi-finals hunt.
The teams were fairly even in the shooting stats, though the Gold Rush got to the line three times as much as the Swish, with the latter having a whopping nine more personal fouls (20-11) and six more turnovers (25-19). The Gold Rush’s work off the boards was huge (rebounds 54-44), as well as capitalising on second chance points (12-6) and winning the assist (15-14), steal (11-9) and block (4-3) counts.
Sopoaga hit a match-high 15 points, as well as eight rebounds, while Richards also managed 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Handevidt knocked down nine points, as well as six rebounds and four steals, while Wallbutton was productive off the bench, racking up a match-high 12 rebounds to accompany her even points and three assists.
For the Swish, Whippy was the dominant player off the boards with seven points, 11 rebounds six assists and four steals while Selby-Rickit was the other player who had an impact with eight points – six coming in that second term – as well as eight rebounds and two steals. Taulelei scored six points and six rebounds in another strong effort for the losing side.
The Gold Rush will have another chance to cause an upset when they go head-to-head with Auckland Dream tonight, while the Swish must defeat the Waikato Wizards on December 3 if they are to play in the semi-finals.