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Winning streak continues as Pulse claim top spot

With stints at wing defence and centre, Fa'amu Ioane was a workhorse through the midcourt for the Pulse. Photo: PhotoWellington

The ANZ Premiership defending champions Te Wānanga o Raukawa Pulse have extended their winning streak to four games and with it climbed to the top of the league ladder for the first time this season.

Making all the play in a deciding fourth quarter against the Stars, the Pulse came from four goals down for a 64-62 win at TSB Arena in Wellington on Saturday night.

It was the only quarter of the night that the Pulse won, doing so by six goals, in what was an immense battle and a match for the attackers in a high-scoring encounter.

Pulse co-captain Kelly Jury stood up for the defenders with a crucial intercept in the dying stages of the game, but the hosts did the damage early in the fourth quarter to set the tone for a pulsating finish.

``I was really impressed with their composure,’’ Pulse coach Yvette McCausland-Durie said of her team afterwards.

``We’ve been under pressure actually since game one and learning how to really work our way through those situations with some resilience. I thought our attacks showed some good patience and they have really started to build.

``Our defence were really under the pump. The Stars moved the ball really nicely on attack, and kept opening us up, so we were really challenged just trying to find what was going to work, hence my rolling people in and out.

``But I just find them (Pulse) a really calm group, the belief is building and it’s about finding that balance between being confident and being ready.’’

Playing with a freedom and joy that had been missing from their last three matches, the Stars looked to have dug themselves out of a mid-season slump and will be ruing their slow start to the last spell where they allowed their opponents to make inroads.

The Stars had controlled much of the match, winning the second and third quarters, but were unable to finish the key plays with the possibility of extra time looming in the tight tussle.

They welcomed back Elle Temu, who missed last week’s action with an ankle injury, with the defender earning a starting spot, but there were no other surprises in either line.

With plenty at stake, both teams settled into their work – a tidy opening five minutes with no turnovers from either team leaving the scores locked at six apiece.

A footwork call on the Pulse’s Amelia Walmsley was the first opportunity for the Stars to break the deadlock on the scoreboard which Maia Wilson converted at the other end.

It was extended to a three-goal lead as the Stars, who have the second-best attacking record in the league after seven rounds, showed a cohesion up front that was missing the last time the two teams met – both Gina Crampton and Mila Reuelu-Buchanan finding Wilson and Amorangi Malesala with precision passes over the long reach of the Pulse defence.

But the Pulse were not to be outdone, pouncing on anything loose and scoring six of the last 10 goals of the spell to help level the scores at 16-16 at the first break.

On limited court time for her return to the court, Temu was replaced by Kelera Nawai-Caucau as play resumed in the second stanza.

The Pulse were forced to turn to their own bench also just two minutes into the quarter with Maddy Gordon leaving the court, with what looked like a knee niggle, pushing Fa’amu Ioane into centre and Parris Mason joining the action at wing defence.

Nawai-Caucau made her presence felt almost immediately as the Stars again edged out to a slender advantage while the Pulse looked to bed in their re-jigged midcourt.

Hunting outside the circle, the defender helped her team to the biggest lead of the night – the other end just as efficient in their timing and vision into the Stars circle, the visitors leading 35-32 at halftime.

There was more positional switches in the midcourt for the Pulse for the third spell with Mason and goal defence Kristiana Manu’a swapping bibs.

The battle between Jury and Wilson didn’t disappoint as the two leaders looked for the edge as the match intensity began to lift.

A long-range missile from Mason into Walmsley looked to ignite the Pulse and the return of Gordon to the court, four minutes into the quarter, brought the crowd to life as the hosts closed the gap to two.

But the Stars weren’t to be rattled, picking up any loose ball and playing with plenty of space on attack.

It took another bit of Mason magic to again cut the lead before she made way for Manu’a as the Pulse reverted to their starting line in a tense final few minutes.

However, three unanswered goals from the Stars in the last 90 seconds of play helped the visitors to a 52-48 advantage turning into the last quarter.

Shooting stats

Amelia Walmsley 53/61 (87%)
Tiana Metuarau 11/11 (100%)

Maia Wilson 42/43 (98%)
Amorangi Malesala 20/24 (83%)

MVP: Amelia Walmsley (Pulse)