The ETCO Auckland Dream beat Waikato Wizards 61-58 in the opening game of the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 season at Bruce Pulman Arena on Thursday night.
A bruising, exciting encounter was only decided in the final few seconds when teenage guard Arielle Williams-Mackey, knocked down a long three to decide the contest. The youngest member of the Dream team had missed all six previous attempts from beyond the arc but made the one that mattered.
In a game when the largest lead for either side was just six points it looked as if Arielle Parai may have scored the game winner when she put Waikato 58-56 ahead with 29 seconds to play.
Dream Head Coach Aik Ho drew up an inbounds play from which the outstanding Sharne Robati (23 points and 10 rebounds) courtesy of a Casyn Buchman assist, tied proceedings.
Waikato still had a full 24 seconds up their sleeve, but they couldn’t make anything of the possession leaving Williams-Mackey the opportunity to make the game winner – she duly obliged!
Earlier Williams-Mackey, in front of a healthy first night crowd, had the distinction of scoring the opening basket of 18IN18 but it was the Wizards with a narrow advantage at quarter time leading 14-12.
A second three of the game from Matangiroa Flavell kept Waikato in the ascendancy. Buchman replied with a triple for Auckland but with defence dominating at both ends scoring was becoming problematic.
Dream forward Robati wasthe first player into double figures but Arielle Parai and Flavell (10 points in the half) ensured the Wizards held sway at halftime (28-24).
Robati scored inside and when the Junior Tall Fern landed a corner three the Dream had established a slender lead.
Parai and Flavell cancelled out those scores as the Wizards held a slender 36-35 advantage at the mid-point of the third frame.
Former Tall Fern Jelena Vucinic and Darci Finnigan landed from deep as the Dream edged back ahead. Parai showed good touch from the perimeter - Jayze’lle Waihi having the last say of the quarter to tie proceedings at 47 points apiece.
Robati and Williams-Mackey gave the Dream a five-point lead and with the Wizards offensive output drying up coach Leanne Walker called a timeout.
Tash Lenden and Maka Daysh (10 points and 12 rebounds) scored on the resumption but the Wizards still trailed 54-52 with four minutes to play.
Daysh earned a trip to the foul line, the Waikato forward tying the contest (56-56) with three to play.
Play was held up when Darci Finnigan went down in the final 90 seconds with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. She watched the closing seconds from the baseline and will have been heartened to see her teammates make a perfect start to their 18IN18 campaign.
The Dream have just a 24-hour turnaround as they are back on court tomorrow to take on the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats. The Wizards are next in action on Tuesday 24 November against the Firebrand Otago Gold Rush.
Dream 61 – Robati 23p/10r, Buchman 13/10r/4a, Williams-Mackey 11p, Wayment 6p/7r
Wizards 58 – Flavell 12p, Daysh 10p/12r, Parai 9p, Lenden 6p, Hirawani 6p
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Robati (Dream-10), Buchman (Dream-4), Williams-Mackey (Dream-4), Parai (Wizards-3), Buck (Dream-3), Flavell (Wizards-2), Daysh (Wizards-2), Paewai (Wizards-1), Waihi (Wizards-1)