The Waikato Wizards eventually proved too good for Firebrand Otago Gold Rush winning 63-55 in the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 at Pulman Arena on Tuesday.
For the second consecutive night, the Gold Rush pushed their opponents all the way before fading in the closing minutes.
Against Harbour Breeze on Monday, the Gold Rush trailed by two points with four minutes to play, and tonight they trailed by just four points with little more than three minutes to play. On both occasions, they had opportunities to claim a notable win but now with an 0-2 record face a tough assignment to book a semi-final berth.
Prior to the game, the Wizards, back in action for the first time since opening night, unveiled 2019 Tall Fern Esra McGolrick as their most recent signing. McGoldrick replaced the injured Arielle Parai for this contest.
Both teams entered the game having lost their opening fixture, and it was the Wizards that made the opening score via a Hirawani three.
The Gold Rush responded immediately, Zoe Richards (10 points) and Te Araroa Sopoaga converting. Fay Fualau scored with her first touch in the NBL and the Gold Rush led 6-2.
McGoldrick was introduced at the mid-point of the period and had an immediate impact with a block and a brace of baskets. Alana Paewai’s triple followed and the Wizards took a 13-10 lead into the quarter break.
Lisa Wallbutton made the first two scores of the second period and when Tara Clement and Hayley Gray added points Wizards Head Coach Leanne Walker needed a timeout with her team outscored 8-0 at the beginning of the period.
Hirawani and the 16-year-old Paewai answered the call of the coach, but Clement kept the Gold Rush in the ascendancy (23-21).
A four-point play from Richards helped Otago’s cause, although two points from a turnover for Matangiroa Flavell and a trey from Kayla Manuirirangi (14 points) had the scores tied at 29 points.
Wallbutton and Richards made 3-point plays as the Gold Rush finished the half in style and with a deserved 37-31 lead.
As at the start, Hirawani made the opening basket of the half and with McGoldrick conjuring up a classy inside move it was a one0possession game (40-37) five minutes into the third.
McGoldrick was the scorer again as the Wizards edged ahead, taking a 46-42 lead into the final ten minutes.
The two teams were fighting for ascendancy at the start of the fourth, Maka Daysh’s And-1 play giving the Wizards their largest lead of the game (53-46).
Otago forward Savanna Handevidt reduced the buffer, although when Flavell made a triple with 5:40 play Gold Rush Head Coach Gavin Briggs called for a timeout.
A pair of turnovers hurt Otago’s chances, but the Wizards couldn’t capitalise – Handevidt scored twice and with three minutes to play the Gold Rush trailed by two possessions.
Daysh made her second And-1 play of the game but Richards replied with success – 59-54 inside the final two minutes.
Turnovers proved costly for the Gold Rush down the stretch and they were forced to foul to stop the clock. Flavell and Manuirirangi each made a couple of free throws to ease the Wizards to a hard-fought win.
The Wizards (1-1) return to action tomorrow when they face the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats (0-2). The Gold Rush (0-2) next face the Kāpura Capital Swish (1-1) on Saturday 28 November.
Gold Rush – Richards 10/8r, Clement 9, Wallbutton 9/7r/4a, Handevidt 8
Wizards – Manuirirangi 14, Flavell 11, Hirawani 10, McGoldrick 10, Paewae 8
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Kayla Manuirirangi (Wizards-7), Esra McGoldrick (Wizards-5), Zoe Richards (G'Rush-4), Pep Flavell (Wizards-4), Maka Daysh (Wizards-3), Te Araroa Sopoaga (G'Rush-3), Olivia O'Neill (G'Rush-2), Lisa Wallbutton (G'Rush-1), Alana Paewai (Wizards-1)