Securing their third win on the trot propelled Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse into a share of top spot when they posted an all-the-way 56-46 victory over the Robinhood Stars in Auckland on Wednesday.
Looking for redemption following their heavy defeat in the previous round, the Stars left their best until last. Winning the final quarter with their best showing of the match was of little comfort after they were dominated through the opening three-quarters from the team from the Capital.
Strong in all areas of the court, the Pulse showed their growing stature with an impressive outing, shooter Aliyah Dunn, once again, delivering a masterclass with her movement and accuracy under the hoop.
``We’re learning, we’re growing, as a group, they’re starting to get some really good links from a combinations perspective and importantly they’re enjoying playing,’’ Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie said after the game, which marked the halfway point of the season.
``There’s always room to grow and they’re really open to learning so I can’t complain.’’
Goal attack Amorangi Malesala and wing defence Holly Fowler got starts for the Stars while the Pulse retained their regular starting seven of recent weeks.
A strong start and finish to the opening stanza, through smothering defensive work from the back three of Kelly Jury, Kristiana Manu’a and Paris Lokotui, and the finishing of Dunn gave the Pulse the early upper hand.
The home side bounced back from a slow start, where turnovers were prominent from both sides, with the well-performed Anna Harrison and Elle Temu grabbing their opportunities to help the Stars get back on level terms.
There was no lack of energy when Maddy Gordon was injected at centre for the Pulse late in the piece with Erikana Pedersen returning to the more familiar role of wing attack. The changes paid dividends for the visitors, who scored the last five goals to break the shackles and take a 14-9 lead at the first break.
It was hard going for the home side on the resumption, the Pulse producing some dazzling play before the Stars, on the back of fine defensive turnover work from Temu and Harrison, sprung back into the contest.
Trailing by as many as nine goals, the home side produced some slick through-court play with Maia Wilson, bouncing back from her shooting yips from the previous match, and Jamie Hume finding their connections under the hoop.
A strong late run had the Stars threatening but the Pulse proved adept at having an answer to all the home side was throwing at them. With her play-making skills, goal attack Tiana Metuarau was key to setting up Dunn in prime position, the latter continuing her fine form this season with a perfect 20 from 20 to spearhead a 28-20 lead for the visitors at half-time.
Harrison and Temu continued to win ball for the Stars in an even start to the third stanza, the main problem for the home side being their inability to make full use of their defensive gains.
Wilson was back to producing her usual accuracy but lacked volume to make a real difference as the Stars rotated Hume and Malesala in the search for a breakthrough.
Rotating their midcourt quartet of Whitney Souness, Pedersen, Gordon and Lokotui was a telling weapon for the visitors who were a dominant presence at the Pulse attacking end. Their ability to retain possession while showing greater patience on attack was also a key factor.
Kayla Johnson took over from Temu midway through the stanza but the Pulse remained unfazed, the big hand of Jury providing the disruption for a late surge from the visitors who restricted the Stars to just 10 goals when taking a 43-30 lead into the last break.
Maia Wilson 26/28 (93%)
Jamie Hume 14/20 (70%)
Amorangi Malesala 6/9 (67%)
Aliyah Dunn 37/39 (95%)
Tiana Metuarau 19/25 (76%)
MVP: Aliyah Dunn (Pulse)