The third and final tournament of the Women’s Basketball Championship begins on Thursday July 31st in Porirua.
The first two tournaments involved all nine provincial teams playing each other to determine placings for the Plate and Championship competitions . The top six teams to contest the championship are divided into two pools.
Pool A features the Auckland Counties Manukau Lady Hawks, New Zealand Home Loans Canterbury Wildcats and Waitakere Lady Rangers.
The Hawks have an all international starting five that includes current Tall Ferns Natalie Taylor, Jordan Hunter and Kalani Purcell. Not surprisingly the Hawks are the leading offensive team in the competition averaging 63 points per game. They also boast the leading rebounder in the competition Charmian Mellars who has hauled in 15.5 boards per game and will likely progress from their pool unbeaten .
The Canterbury Wildcats will have the same squad that served them well in the previous two tournaments. Guard Shea Crotty captains the team that perhaps relies a little too much on centre Tessa Boagni who is averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds a game. Forward Bridgette Lawn and Laken Wairau will provide good support for Boagni, the red and blacks strong contenders for a sem-final spot.
The Rangers look as if they will be without the services of Emma Bergin and Penina Davidson. Davidson has headed to the University of California, Berkley to begin her College basketball career. The team will miss her 15 points/9 rebounds per game contribution, meaning the likes of Wuanyei Ah-Hing, Natasha Hall, Millie Nathan and Stevee Theyers will carry a heavier workload. However they will be boosted by the addition of guard Te Oramae Solomon, back from Junior College in the USA.
In Pool B Waikato Wizards, North Harbour Breeze and Oceana Gold Rush Otago each have a nice blend of youth and experience on their rosters.
Only ACM Hawks have scored more points than the Wizards, the Waikato team boasting the best shooting percentage from behind the three-point arc (36.7%). Rhaiah Spooner-Knight has contributed 15 points a game and has been ably supported by Jess Tuki, Natasha Lenden veteran Leanne Walker and daughter Krystal Leger-Walker (10ppg).
Harbour Breeze welcome back forward Rebecca Van Kuyk to their line up. The only teams to defeat ACM Lady Hawks, the Breeze have been blowing hot and cold in the competition to date. With Kuyk, Deena Franklin (leading offensive rebounder), former Tall Fern centre Karlene Kingi and young tyro Tera Reed in the front court they possess enough firepower to trouble any team in the competition. Consistent performances from their guards will be key to a strong Harbour showing.
Double international Suzie Bates is not only New Zealand White Ferns leading run scorer in recent times but also the leading points scorer in the WBC this season, averaging 16 points per game. Powerhouse Samara Gallaher (16pts/9reps per game) and Janet Main were outstanding for Otago in the last tournament, the southerners swarming defence giving up just 50 points per game. Otago comfortably beat North Harbour the last time the two teams met, Bates, Gallaher and Main all contributing double-digit points hauls. A repeat performance would likely carry Otago into the semi-finals.
The teams finishing bottom of pools A and B will contest the Plate competition with last year’s tournament winners, Capital Flyers, Probands Nelson Sparks and Rotorua Vols. Playing on their home court and with Stella Beck back in their line-up the Flyers start as slight favourites to lift the minor silverware.
Auckland Counties Manukau and Waikato Wizards are the likely finalists in the Championship.
The players will have the added incentive of playing for international as well as provincial honours. At the conclusion of the WBC tournament a squad will be named to attend Tall Ferns trials. The Ferns are likely to be contesting a four team tournament in China during late August.