MYSTICS RETAIN TOP SPOT WITH WIN OVER STEEL
Showcasing their depth of talent, the MG Mystics proved too classy for an improved Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel with a 67-59 win in Auckland on Saturday.
Dominating the middle stages of the match, the Mystics were able to give their full bench court time during the match after building into a position of dominance.
Missing some of their regulars, the Steel bounced back from a 20-goal loss to the Mystics two weeks ago with a spirited showing, finishing with a flourish to win the last quarter while closing the gap.
With a rich variety of options at their disposal, the Mystics started with versatile midcourter Claire O’Brien at wing attack while defender Phoenix Karaka made a return from concussion to slot in at goal defence.
It was a different story for a depleted Steel, who were without experienced defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and talented young shooter Saviour Tui. Sarahpheinna Woulf was given the rare opportunity to start a match when partnering with Kate Burley at the Steel defensive end.
The pair level-pegged through much of the opening stanza, the home side nudging ahead a couple of times but the Steel showed their patience and resolve to reel back any deficit with well-taken turnover opportunities.
Finding an easier path into their shooting circle where the prolific Grace Nweke was a standout presence, it was the Mystics who secured a slim 16-15 lead heading into the first break.
There were ominous signs for the Steel on the resumption when the Mystics posted the first five scoring opportunities. Efficient on attack and relentless defence, where the back three of Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick tightened their grip, helped the home side gain the upper hand.
With opportunities on attack becoming increasingly difficult, Steel shooter George Fisher was again a dominant presence with her accuracy and timing but her volume dried up.
Relentless pressure paid off for the Mystics as they built on their buffer, delivering a decisive second quarter to push out to a handy 35-27 lead at the main break with Nweke returning a perfect 30 from 30 after 30 minutes.
The Steel made the early running to start the third stanza but with the introduction of accurate shooter Filda Vui, dynamic midcourter Peta Toeava and dogged wing defence Fa’amu Ioane for the second half, it was not long before the home side reasserted their dominance.
The Mystics depth was all too evident, with Toeava immediately on-song in showing her intuitive connection with Nweke as the home side nailed home their advantage.
There were messy passages from both sides with turnovers flying both ways but there was no stopping the rampant Mystics as they left the Steel fighting for the scraps.
Getting the ball circle-bound was at opposite extremes for the Mystics and Steel. Having the luxury of the 1.93m Nweke as their target under the hoop provided numerous feeding options for the home side.
Forced to go the other route and find their way to the circle edge, the Steel were stalled by the effective and relentless smothering defensive efforts of the Mystics back three.
Rangy centre Kate Heffernan, impressive shooter Fisher, busy wing defence Renee Savai’inaea and non-stop goalkeeper Burley couldn’t be faulted for their efforts in a challenging outing for the Steel but which ultimately couldn’t prevent the Mystics rolling in to the last break with a healthy 53-40 lead.