Wizards dig deep to overcome Gold Rush in final term

AN impressive last quarter has helped Waikato Wizards overturn a final break deficit to defeat Otago Gold Rush and book their spot in the 2020 New Zealand National Basketball League (NZNBL) 18IN18 Grand Final. The Wizards were coming from behind at quarter time, flipped the script on their opponents in the second term to go in level at half-time, and then came from a point down at the final break to run over the top of the Gold Rush and win 68-63.

It was the Gold Rush who started off the game on top with Te Araroa Sopoaga and Savanna Handevidt both making shots in the opening two minutes. When Bronwyn Kjestrup secured both her free throws, the lead was out to six, and the Wizards had missed two chances and turned the ball over twice in the opening two-and-a-half minutes. Finally it was Ezra McGoldrick who drove to the basket and put up a nice layup.

The basket did not stop the early Otago dominance however, as the Gold Rush went on to add 12 of the first 14 points in the term, and with five and a half minutes down, the score was 12-2. Alana Paewai broke the drought for the Wizards, but the lead got out to as much as 13 points at one stage once Kjestrup and Sopoaga both added to their totals. Lucky for the Wizards, Kayla Manuirirangi and Zara Poulava added the last six points of the game to end the first term with a more manageable seven-point deficit.

The second term had a slow start to it with the teams trading baskets after the first 90 seconds through Manuirirangi and Zoe Richards, with the latter’s three-pointer her first score of the night. Parai was starting to help her side claw back the deficit from eight to three thanks to back-to-back jumpers, and then Manuirirangi continued her hot form with a couple of layups, and six minutes into the term, the Wizards were in front for the first time in the game.

McGoldrick and Jayzelee Waihi continued that momentum and the lead was out to five. Since the 17-4 start, the Wizards had turned the tables and scored 21-3 and were in firm control. Luckily Olivia O’Neill was able to arrest some of the momentum in the final three minutes, making back-to-back layups and a nice finish from Lisa Wallbutton put the Gold Rush back in front with 90 seconds on the clock. The lead got out to three points, but the last two baskets of the half went the way of the Wizards and for all the momentum swings, the sides went into half-time level at 28-apiece.

Straight out of half-time, it was the Gold Rush who started fast, piling on eight consecutive points including two triples to race to a 36-28 lead. At one stage it got out to as much as nine points with six minutes to go thanks to a Hayley Gray triple, but Parai matched that effort with a long-range bomb of her own, and McGoldrick finished an And-One chance to draw within three.

The teams traded chances throughout the term as neither side could take full advantage, but six consecutive points the way of the Wizards in the final two minutes had them up by three. Richards had something to say about that however, scoring back-to-back layups for the Gold Rush and handing her side the all-important lead in the last 30 seconds of the term.

The Gold Rush had the lead, but could not build too much momentum until O’Neill hit a crucial long-range jumper with 6:15 remaining in the match. That put the Gold Rush up 58-52, but six of the next seven points put the Wizards back within a points. The Gold Rush went up by three again thanks to free throws from Richards, but the momentum was about to turn.

Manurirangi hit a step back jumper to draw within one, then Parai put the side in front with 2:20 on the clock. Wallbutton responded with 85 seconds on the clock and the Gold Rush held a narrow 63-62 lead, but it would be their last score of the match. Manuirirangi replied immediately, and then a turnover and deliberate foul on her saw her put the lead out to three for the Wizards. Richards tried a long-range attempt, but it was picked up by Matangiroa Flavell off the defensive board, who was immediately fouled and sent to the charity stripe. She made not mistake, putting the last two points on the board with seven seconds left, ending the contest at 68-63.

Otago actually won a lot of the crucial stats, shooting at a higher 40 per cent clip from the field compared to the Wizards’ 37 per cent, and won the rebounds (44-39) and assists (13-9). Unfortunately, their ball use in transition saw the Gold Rush cough up 27 turnovers to 14, and the Wizards made them pay by scoring 26-8 off turnovers, which they gained through steals (18-13). The Wizards also had more contributions off their bench (24-16) and in second chance points (13-8) for the win.

Manuirirangi hit 18 points, and had two rebounds, two assists and two steals in the win, but it was McGoldrick, who chimed in with 13 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and two assists in a huge defensive effort, that was best-on. for the winners Coming off the bench, Parai had 14 points, six rebounds, five steals and two assists, while Makayla Daysh (four points, seven rebounds and three steals) was another strong defensive performer.

For the Gold Rush, Richards had 15 points and 14 rebounds in a huge double-double, also collecting two rebounds and two blocks in a best-on performance. Gray had 10 points and two assists, while Handevidt was strong off the boards to finish with seven points, seven rebounds and three steals. Also picking up their fair share of points was Kjestrup (eight points, two assists), Sopoaga (seven points, three rebounds, four assists and five steals) and O’Neill (eight points, three rebounds).

While the Gold Rush’s season comes to a close, the Wizards will now head to the grand final tonight to take on the undefeated Harbour Breeze.

Picture: Photosport

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