The Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze defeated the Waikato Wizards 70-59 in the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 Grand Final at Pulman Arena on Sunday.
The Breeze, runners-up in 2019, went one better as they completed 18IN18 with an unbeaten seven-game campaign.
The Wizards will rue their slow start where they scored just seven points in the first quarter. Eleven points down at three-quarter time, it looked as if they might complete a memorable comeback when they closed to within three points with six minutes to play.
However, led by captain Ash Kelman-Poto, who posted 18 points, 14 rebounds and six steals, the Breeze held firm in the closing minutes. The winning skipper deservedly won the Grand-Final MVP Award.
Also prominent for Breeze were Tiarna Clarke (16 points and five assists), Brooke Blair (10 points) and Jazz Kailahi-Fulu (eight points and nine rebounds).
For the Wizards, Kayla Manuirirangi scored 15 points, Esra McGoldrick put together a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds, while Maka Daysh notched 10 points to go along with nine boards.
Kailahi-Fulu made the first score of the game and with Blair taking her 18IN18 tally to 100 points with a transition basket, the Breeze were 10-2 ahead in three minutes.
Keeley Tini increased the Breeze advantage before Arielle Parai got a jumper to drop, but it was slim pickings for the Wizards who trailed by 12 at the first break.
McGoldrick, the leading shot blocker in the competition, swatted away a couple of efforts, but a turnover gave Blair an open three. Mantangiroa Flavell made back-to-back baskets before Kelman-Poto scored with some deft footwork.
Parai scored in transition to reduce the deficit to eight points ahead of Clarke unleashing an arching three to push the Breeze 29-16 ahead.
Jillings also knocked down a three, but despite a half where their offence spluttered along the Wizards were only 12 points down at halftime (34-22).
As she had at the start of the game, Kailahi-Fulu opened the scoring in the half before McGoldrick made a brace of baskets, Flavell’s three reducing the Breeze lead to seven (40-33) at the mid-point of the third frame.
Olivia Bell made her first score of the game, Waihi cancelling that out with an athletic drive. Kelman-Poto returned after a facial injury to convert an And-1 play – Parai and Fotu trading triples as the scoring tempo increased.
McGoldrick then scored in the paint and Daysh from the foul line, meaning the Wizards deficit was 11 at the three-quarter mark (55-44).
Daysh scored the first two baskets of the final period ahead of a Clarke floater. McGoldrick made back-to-back buckets and with the margin reduced to five points (57-52), Breeze Head Coach Jody Cameron needed a timeout.
Waihi made it a three points game with a score through traffic, but Kelman-Poto and Clarke, having her best came of the competition, ensured the Breeze would claim a fourth title in 12-years.
The Breeze had previously tasted success in 2010, 2011 and 2014 with Jillings, Fotu and Blair the three survivors from the ’14 team.
Wizards 59 – Manuirirangi 15, McGoldrick 11/12r, Daysh 10/9r, Flavell 7, Waihi 6
Breeze 70 – Kelman-Poto 18/14r, Clarke 16/5a, Blair 10, Kailahi-Fulu 8/9r, Fotu 7