The fifteenth and final 2020 Sal’s NBL 18IN18 regular season game at Pulman Arena on Thursday had nothing riding on it.
After all, the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats had lost their previous four games and had already claimed the unwanted title of wooden spooners.
In addition, the Firebrand Otago Gold Rush had nothing to play for having already secured an 18IN18 semi-final berth.
Nothing riding on it! Try telling that to these two proud rivals who between them have won four of the last five national titles. The Gold Rush were champions in 2015 and 2018, either side of the Wildcats' triumphs in 2016 and 2017.
Add to that the fact that Gold Rush were hammered 83-48 in a pre-season game early last month and both teams had a point to prove.
Oh, and who can forget how twins Zoe and Brittany Richards were lining up against each other for the first time.
In the end, it was Zoe, the game’s highest scorer with 21 points, and the Gold Rush with the biggest smiles. They led at every quarter to close out a deserved 72-58 win in a predictably hard-fought encounter..
The Gold Rush had the better of the opening stages forging an 11-2 lead, with Richards making a couple of scoring incisions.
Kat Jones landed a three, a forerunner to Shea Crotty dropping a trio of treys as the Wildcats reduced the arrears, and when Tiana Placid made a basket on the quarter-time buzzer the Gold Rush lead was just two points (20-18).
Former Wildcats captain Hayley Gray scored against her old team, Richards added two more, and the Gold Rush lead bumped back up to 26-18.
Richards and Lisa Wallbutton (11 rebounds) were dominating the paint, but Placid was determined to ensure it was not one-way traffic by making a bucket inside. However, Richards, of the Zoe variety, was a perfect five from five from the field as the Gold Rush lead ballooned out to 33-20.
Turnovers were plaguing the Wildcats progress – Izzy Cook made a welcome couple of baskets, but they had plenty to do at halftime trailing 36-22.
Nice footwork from the promising Millie Knight (11 points) produced a score in close as the Wildcats put together a 10-0 run before Gold Rush skipper Bron Kjestrup scored with a baseline drive.
Knight drained another long two and when Rosalia Samia scored with a back-down move the Wildcats trailed by just four points (40-36).
The Wildcats full-court press was causing some strife for the Gold Rush guards, Gemma Etheredge reducing the deficit to three before Savanna Handevidt and Tara Clement restored some order for the blue and gold; 56-49 the Gold Rush lead at three-quarter time.
The trio of Etheredge, Crotty and Placid were doing everything possible to bring the Wildcats their first win of the campaign but Fayreen Fualau and Gray thwarted their efforts to keep the Gold Rush ahead, 64-52, with six minutes to play.
The Gold Rush protected their double-digit lead in the closing minutes for a third-straight win ahead of their semi-final.
Gold Rush are next in action in the second semi when they take on the Waikato Wizards on Saturday. The first Sal’s NBL 18IN18 semi-final will take place on Friday when the unbeaten Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze play the Kāpura Capital Swish.
Wildcats 58 – Crotty 11p/6s, Knight 11p, Cook 10p, Placid 6p. Etheredge 5p/11r/6s, B Richards 4p/5r
Gold Rush 72 – Z Richards 21p/9r/5s, Clement 12p, Fualau 9p, Gray 8p, Sopoaga 6p/6a, Wallbutton 4p/10r
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Shea Crotty (Wildcats-7), Tara Clement (Gold Rush-6), Zoe Richards (Gold Rush-5), Lisa Wallbutton (Gold Rush-5), Bronwyn Kjestrup (Gold Rush-3), Fayreen Fualau (Gold Rush-2), Te Araroa Sopoaga (Gold Rush-1), Isabelle Cook (Wildcats-1).