After three days of high quality basketball we now know the top six teams that will contest the play-off rounds of the 2015 Women’s Basketball Championship at Finals weekend in Porirua next month. Harbour Breeze, Waikato Wizards and Auckland Counties Manukau Lady Hawks will join the three South Island teams, Probands Nelson Sparks, Oceana Gold Rush Otago and NZ Home Loans Canterbury Wildcats.
The remaining six teams will contest the Plate competition.
Entering WBC Tournament 2 in Christchurch nine of the twelve teams were still in contention for a top six spot.
Bartercard Taranaki Thunder fell by the wayside when they lost two of their first three games but even entering the last day of competition eight teams remained in the hunt.
Waitakere Lady Rangers were the next to fall. The Rangers lost to both Nelson Sparks and cross-city rivals Harbour Breeze on day two. Facing a must win game against the in form Otago Gold Rush they came up short 71-31. Guards Kezia Kelly and Stevie Theyers both scored double figures but 24 points from Anita Snowdon proved too much for the Rangers.
Capital Flyers entered the weekend second on the ladder with a healthy 5-1 record and a place in the top six all but assured. However, after edging past Nelson on day one, the Flyers proceeded to lose four straight games. The last loss was a close affair against table topping Waikato Wizards. The Flyers trailed 50-39 at three quarter time but pulled to within two points with a minute to play. Despite 19 points from Tegan Graham the Flyers fell just short, 61-56.
The Flyers fate was out of their hands as they awaited the outcome of the Auckland Counties Manukau Lady Hawks versus Tauranga City Coasters clash. A Coasters win would mean the Flyers progress but an ACM win would resign the Flyers to a place in the Plate competition.
Despite a relatively quiet scoring output from Jordan Hunter ACM still had enough firepower to record a 69-52 win. Patricia Pupuke scored 17 points for the Hawks who progressed into the top six.
ACM and Capital flyers ended with the same 6-5 record but ACM progress having defeated the Flyers back in round 1.
Defending champions Harbour Breeze slipped to 3-4 when they lost to Otago on day one and looked to be sliding out of contention. However, the arrival of Penina Davidson who flew in midday Friday after a long flight from the University of California, Berkley changed the team’s fortunes. The Breeze won the next four games and with it a passage into the top half dozen.
Canterbury Wildcats overcame the handicap of losing experienced point guard Shea Crotty in the first game to advance to the top six. Crotty was sidelined with a neck injury but the Wildcats still won four of their five games, with Darcy Rose enjoying a particularly good tournament.
Waikato Wizards progressed serenely through the weekend winning all four of their games to head the WBC ladder with a 10-1 record.
The 30th and final game of the weekend featured Nelson Sparks and Otago Gold Rush. Both teams had already qualified for a top six space so only southern pride was at stake.
The sixth game in three days understandably took it’s toll on the pace and scoring efficiency of both teams. It was the Sparks who suffered the most, managing just seven points in the second half, going down 45-27.
Jodi Hikuroa-Jefrey managed 10 points for the Sparks but had no answer to Jillian Harmon (10pts/23rebs) and 15 points from Samara Gallaher.
Otago join Waikato at the top of the ladder with a 10-1 record, the Sparks settling for third place alongside Canterbury Wildcats.
Despite the loss Nelson coach Tony Rampton was contented with his team’s overall effort.
“I’m really happy with the way the team played. The team have come together well and I am pleased with where we are at.”
Rampton was impressed with the form of Sparks forward Jess Bygate.
“She is a tough competitor, rebounds and shoots the ball well. I would expect her to get a Tall Ferns trial .”
Looking ahead to Porirua the former Tall Black centre believes any one of the top six teams can win the title.“The first day will be critical. With two pools of six you obviously have to win at least one of those two games on day one and then anything can happen.”
It was good to see the three teams at the bottom of the standings secure their first victories of the season. The Coasters, Vols and Thunder each gained some consolation for their efforts.
New Zealand Tall Ferns Head Coach Kennedy Kereama has been delighted with what he has observed.
“My first impression was how the quality has lifted to another level compared with previous tournaments. It’s tremendous to have twelve teams and eight or nine of the teams are very competitive.”
“Another great addition is that teams play each other outside of the three tournaments therefore promoting the game in their local regions”
Kereama was not prepared to speculate on how many players from the WBC will make the Tall Ferns training squad of approximately 24 players when named later this week.
“Certainly a number of players who have played in the WBC and shown their wares are in contention for a place in the squad.”
The Ferns coach is also impressed with the standard of coaching.
“The coaching standard is excellent, most of the coaches have coached New Zealand age group teams or previously coached in the WBC. You have to credit the coaches for the work they have put in and the training schedules they have implemented in order to raise the standard of play.”
Like all basketball fans Kereama is looking forward to the international programme and the WBC Finals to be held over the next few weeks.
9-1 Oceana Gold Rush Otago, Waikato Wizards
8-3 NZ Home Loans Canterbury Wildcats, Probands Nelson Sparks
7-4 Harbour Breeze
6-5 Auckland Counties Manukau Lady Hawks
6-5 Capital Flyers
5-6 Waitakere Lady Rangers.
3-8 Bartercard Taranaki Thunder.
1-10 Te Tai Tokerau Phoenix, Tauranga City Coasters, Rotorua Lady Vols.