The Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze made it two wins from two outings at the 2020 Sal’s NBL 18IN18 after defeating the Firebrand Otago Gold Rush 58-47 at Pulman Arena on Monday.
It was a far from convincing performance, but the win means the Breeze joins the Auckland Dream at the top of the Sal’s NBL ladder, both teams with a 2-0 record.
Based on dogged defence Gold Rush put together a tremendous performance and with under four minutes to play trailed by just three points.
Zoe Richards had 12 points and eight rebounds for Gold Rush whilst Lisa Wallbutton rolled back the years to accumulate 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Te Araroa Sopoaga was also impressive with eight points, five rebounds and seven assists and Bronwyn Kjestrup deserve a special mention.
The Gold Rush captain finished the night shift at Dunedin hospital at 8am on the day of the game before flying to Auckland to play a significant role in her team’s resilient performance.
On a night when neither team shot well, Keeley Tini was the exception making 4 from 7 from beyond the arc. Tini tallied 14 points, Brooke Blair scored a dozen whilst Jess Moors was all energy with 12 rebounds including five offensive boards.
The Breeze elevated Blair and Ella Fotu to their starting line-up but it was Ash Kelman-Poto that opened the scoring before a heads up play from Otago debutant Sopoaga released Richards for the open layup.
Forwards Jazz Kailahi-Fulu and Savanna Handevit traded free throws and when Wallbutton, making a welcome return to the NBL, scored with a couple of trademark baskets inside the Gold Rush had a 15-12 quarter time lead.
Moors, one of seven Westlake Girls' High School alumni on show in the game, opened the second quarter scoring but defence was dominating proceedings, just seven points scored in the first five minutes of the stanza – Breeze ahead 18-16.
Sopoaga and Tini exchanged threes before Fotu brought the curtain down on a low scoring half with a basket to keep the Breeze ahead at the interval (24-21).
Richards was at the heart of a 6-0 Otago run, Harbour replied with the same, a Blair three plus a Tiarna Clarke steal and finish gave Harbour a 36-32 lead.
Moors was making herself a pest on the offensive boards, Jazz Kailahi-Fulu reaping reward from her effort.
Wallbutton’s neat finish meant Gold Rush were very much in the hunt at the three-quarter mark trailing 39-36.
Fotu scored off a no-look pass from Clarke to give Breeze a six-point lead, but Wallbutton scored on consecutive offences, and Breeze Head Coach Jody Cameron required a timeout with her charges just two points ahead (43-41).
Tini dropped her third trey of the game prompting Gold Rush Head Coach Gavin Briggs to use one of his timeouts.
American Handevidt scored with a tumbling left-handed finish and trailing 46-44 with four minutes to play a Gold Rush upset was on the cards.
Blair made it a five-point game before another Tini triple made it 53-45 with 2:15 to play.
The spirited Rush couldn’t get any closer, Blair, Clarke and Tini completing the job for the Breeze from the charity stripe.
Gold Rush are back in action on Tuesday when, in a repeat of the 2018 Grand Final, they take on Waikato Wizards. The Breeze next face the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats on Thursday.
Gold Rush 47 – Richards 12p, Wallbutton 10p/13r, Handevidt 9p, Sopoaga 8p
Breeze 58 – Tini 14p, Blair 12p, Fotu 9p, Kelman-Potu 7p, Kailahi-Fulu 7p
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Keeley Tini (Breeze-9), Brooke Blair (Breeze-8), Lisa Wallbutton (Gold Rush-6), Ella Fotu (Breeze-3), Zoe Richards (Gold Rush-2), Te Araroa Sopoaga (Gold Rush-1), Savanna Handevidt (Gold Rush-1).