Mystics win opening Northern Challenge clash
Steered home by two teenaged shooters, the Northern Mystics delivered a telling final quarter to post a 59-55 win over the Robinhood Northern Stars at Pulman Arena in Auckland.
Shooters Grace Nweke and Saviour Tui played prominent roles in helping the Mystics win the first clash of the Northern Challenge, a three-game contest played between the cross-town rivals during the season.
Opening their respective 2020 campaigns, the two Auckland teams produced an entertaining spectacle, the Mystics leading from start to finish but having to overcome a gallant effort from their neighbours.
The Stars couldn’t retain the momentum they held heading into the final break but showed plenty of character to secure a bonus point, the Mystics doing a better job of holding their poise at both ends of the court heading down the home straight.
Despite missing the experience of shooter Bailey Mes through injury, the Mystics got away to a cracking start against the new-look Stars.
The midcourt pairing of Peta Toeava and Tayla Earle proved great distributors, their ability to get the ball into the 1.93m Nweke proving a seamless exercise early on. At the other end, the potent defensive combination of Phoenix Karaka and Sulu Fitzpatrick, appearing in her 100th combined league match, provided staunch resistance to the Stars attacking options.
Trailing by six, the Stars introduced Lisa Mather at centre for Mila Reuelu-Buchanan late in the piece which helped make up a little lost ground, the Mystics completing a rollicky opening quarter to take a 20-16 lead into the first break.
The home side produced a stirring second quarter to compete on level terms with their cross-town rivals.
Mather added good defensive impact for the Stars while the introduction of their Trinidad & Tobago import Daystar Swift helped put pressure on Nweke’s influence under the hoop. Back after missing last season with a serious knee injury, Fa’amu Ioane had a busy first half while getting her hands on a number of turnover opportunities.
Going off the boil slightly at their shooting end, the Mystics replaced debut shooter Asher Grapes with another first-timer in Tui as the Stars made a late rally.
With shooter Maia Wilson coming into her own under the hoop, the Mystics held out a fast-finishing Stars to hold their four-point buffer when leading 33-29 at the main break.
The Stars continued to apply the pressure through an absorbing third quarter, reducing the deficit to two but unable to make further inroads until the stroke of three-quarter time.
Young shooter Tui made a solid fist of her first outing at the elite level while Karaka was a constant presence defensively for the Mystics. But the Stars refused to take a backward step and were ultimately rewarded for their constant pressure, Mather and Ioane in particular gaining valuable turnover ball.
With Jamie Hume excelling in a playmaking role from goal attack and Wilson a model of consistency under the hoop, the Stars closed out the third quarter just one goal adrift when the Mystics took a tenuous 45-44 lead in to the last break.