The Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze moved to the top of the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 ladder with a 3-0 record after defeating the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats 81-59 at Pulman Arena on Thursday evening.
The defeat for the Wildcats was their fourth in succession meaning they will only be playing for pride when they meet the Firebrand Otago Gold Rush in their final regular season game next week.
25 points (11/17FG) from Tall Ferns guard Brooke Blair was the catalyst for a strong Breeze showing which guarantees them a place in the semi-finals. Best of the supporting cast were Ash Kelman-Poto (18 points and nine rebounds), Ella Fotu (nine points) and teenager Jess Moors (10 points).
A big question before the game was whether the Wildcats could play with the same intensity they displayed the night before when they almost upset the Waikato Wizards, especially as that game had gone to overtime.
Initially they appeared up for the task, but they visibly ran out of steam in the second half giving up 47 points. Rosalia Samia scored a dozen points for the Wildcats and Terai Elia was her usual stats-stuffing self (11 points, eight rebounds, three assists and four steals).
Keeley Tini, the most accurate shooter for the Breeze in their previous game, dropped her first shot from beyond the arc as her team took a 16-10 advantage into the quarter-time break.
Shea Crotty opened the second quarter scoring and with Elia devouring offensive rebounds and steals, the Wildcats' effort picked up.
Unfortunately for the Cantabrians, defensive dynamo Gemma Etheredge picked up a third foul and headed to the pine –Blair took advantage immediately by scoring a trio of buckets as Breeze stretched their buffer out to 24-14.
The Wildcats responded with a 7-0 run with Crotty, Izzy Cook and Samia making scores.
Blair then put her stamp on proceedings draining a pair of threes in the final thirty seconds of the half to propel the Breeze to a 34-23 advantage – she had 17 points on 7 from 11 shooting at the interval.
Elia scored the first points of the second half but when Tiarna Clarke made an arching three the Breeze were 44-27 ahead and Wildcats Head Coach Mel Downer needed a timeout.
Cook provided the response her coach needed with a long three, Etheredge dropped a shot from the same spot and Lauryn Hippolite from the corner, but Blair and Breeze skipper Kelman-Poto were finding baskets regularly.
A Brittany Richards three narrowed the Breeze's advantage to ten at three-quarter time (57-47). The Wildcats had made 5 from 6 threes in the period and were very much in the hunt entering the last ten minutes.
Blair took her personal tally to 25 points, the highest individual score in the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 so far, as the Breeze scored the first seven points of the final frame and when Clarke connected with a shot clock buzzer-beater Harbour were 66-51 ahead.
Hippolite scored her second trey of the game but there was plenty to do for the Wildcats trailing 70-54.
It didn’t get any better for the red and blacks as Zara Jillings and teenager Jess Moors made eight points between them in the dying minutes as the Breeze eased to a comfortable victory.
The Wildcats now have a week off before playing the South Island derby against the Gold Rush on 3 December. The Breeze are next up on Monday 30 November against the Waikato Wizards.
Wildcats 59 – Samia 12p, Elia 11p/8r, Crotty 9p, Richards 7p, Etheredge 7p
Breeze 81 – Blair 25p, Kelman-Poto 18p/9r, Moors 10p, Fotu 9p
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Brooke Blair (Breeze-10), Ash Kelman-Poto (Breeze-8), Jess Moors (Breeze-5), Terai Elia (Wildcats-5), Rosalia Samia (Wildcats-2).