The Waikato Wizards recorded their second victory in the Sal’s NBL 18IN18 at Pulman Arena on Wednesday evening beating the Alloyfold Canterbury Wildcats 69-63 in an overtime thriller.
The best contest of 18IN18 to date appeared to be headed the way of the Wildcats until they were outscored 24-12 in the fourth period forcing the quality contest into five minutes of additional time.
Maka Daysh put the Wizards ahead from the foul line after the impressive Gemma Etheredge had fouled out and then Alyssa Hirawani hobbled out of the game having kept the Wizards a single point ahead as overtime unfolded.
Teenage guard Jayze’lee Waihi became the game-winner for the Wizards - the Under 17 Nationals MVP making a triple with 58 seconds to play. Her teenage backcourt partner Alana Paewai then made a brace of free throws and the Wildcats commendable resistance was finally broken.
Waihi finished with 14 points (3/5 3PG), whilst Kayla Manuirirangi had 15 points and Daysh put together a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds.
Wildcats guard Gemma Etheredge led all scorers with 17 points, Lauryn Hippolite, on limited minutes due to injury, scored 14 points, Brittany Richards had13 and Terai Elia posted five points, 13 rebounds and a competition-high seven steals.
The defeat leaves the Wildcats on the edge of elimination from a semi-final appearance. Champions in 2017, the Wildcats are 0-3 and will need to win their final two games against Otago Gold Rush and Harbour Breeze, on Thursday night, to retain an outside chance of a top-four spot.
Early on, Richards scored with her first touch to give the Wildcats an early advantage, but it was short-lived as Daysh went to work inside and Waihi converted off a beautiful Manuirirangi pass.
Hippolite made a welcome return after injury to the Wildcats line-up and had an immediate impact scoring with her first two shots – Etheredge scored in transition and the Cantabs were ahead 10-8.
Manuirirangi, the former Tulane University standout, knocked down a triple but Rosalia Samia replied in kind to keep the Wildcats within a point at quarter-time trailing 14-13.
Smothering defence was troubling the Wizards that went over four minutes without scoring before Esra McGoldrick made a basket - Etheredge replied with three baskets on the bounce and when Hippolite knocked down her second triple the Wildcats were 25-17 ahead.
Richards made it a nine-point Canterbury advantage, trimmed to seven (28-21) by McGoldrick on the cusp of halftime.
Etheredge became the first player into double figures when she opened the second-half scoring. Daysh scored inside before Hippolite unleashed another triple and Elia made a tough basket in close; 40-27 the Wildcats lead.
The Wildcats frontcourt was bolstered by the inclusion of Isabelle Cook. She made a difficult shot but it was Manuirirangi that had the final say of the period to reduce the Wizards' deficit to 12 points (46-34).
Shea Crotty’s triple kept the Wildcats advantage in double figures, a step-back three followed by a block from Waihi gave the Wizards some impetus.
Wildcats head coach Mel Downer sensed a shift in momentum and called a timeout with her team just six points ahead (49-43) with half a quarter to go.
Waihi narrowed the lead to three, but Samia made it 51-46 with four minutes to play. The Wildcats' lead fluctuated between five and three points before an And-1 play from Daysh made it 55-53 with a shade over two minutes to play.
The dependable free-throw shooter, Manuiriirangi, tied the scores (55 points apiece) from the line before Etheredge scored off her own miss.
Daysh earned a trip to the charity stripe with 65 seconds left and made both freebies to once again tie proceedings.
Both teams had possessions to win the game in the closing seconds but neither could make it count, regulation time finishing with it tied at 58 points apiece, and as it transpired it was the Wildcats left to rue a wonderful opportunity to record an upset win.
The Wildcats return to action tomorrow when they face the Platinum Homes Harbour Breeze in a must-win game. The Wizards also face the Breeze next time up, but not until Monday 30 November.
Wildcats 63 – Etheredge 17p, Hippolite 14p, Richards 13p, Crotty 5p/5a
Wizards 69 – Manuirirangi 15p, Waihi 14p, Daysh 13p/12r, McGoldrick 11p
SkyCity Hotel MVP Votes:
Maka Daysh (Wizards-10), Esra McGoldrick (Wizards-8), Gemma Etheredge (Wildcats-5), Lauryn Hippolite (Wildcats-3), Kayla Manuirirangi (Wizards-2), Terai Elia (Wildcats-1), Alana Paewai (Wizards-1)