Pulse outshine Stars to hit top spot
Te Wānanga O Raukawa Pulse leapfrogged into the lead of the ANZ Premiership with a self-assured 53-44 win over the Northern Stars in Manukau on Monday night.
The rivalries at both ends of the court were like a Who’s Who: Cat Tuivaiti up against Kayla Cullen, Sulu Fitzpatrick and Leana de Bruin; Maia Wilson and Malia Vaka versus Katrina Grant and Phoenix Karaka.
But in the end the difference was the Pulse’s exceptional full-court defence, with an impressive haul of intercepts shared amongst the team, to notch up their third win of the ANZ Premiership season. It meant they overtook the Magic at the top of the table by the slimmest of goal differentials, but the Southern Steel are poised to snatch top spot back again.
Buoyed by a vibrant home crowd dressed in purple, the Stars began with a fierce determination and held the lead a number of times during the opening quarter.
But timely intercepts by Grant and wing defence Claire Kersten gave the Pulse a small buffer which they held at the end of the first break, 14-12.
Pinpoint passing from young wing attack Whitney Souness, who dictated the Pulse attack, kept the scoreboard ticking over in favour of the visitors.
At the opposite end, Wilson and Vaka showed that their relationship is growing in the shooting circle, but it was always going to be a tough task up against the Silver Ferns pairing of Grant and Karaka.
A period of scrappy play from both teams slowed down the scoring and forced both to resettle, and by halftime, the Pulse had resumed the upper-hand with a seven-goal advantage, at 30-23.
The Stars had moments where they showcased their obvious flair, skill and craftiness, but at other times, struggled to make their connections, under pressure from the dogged Pulse defence.
Going into the final quarter ahead 42-33, the Pulse kept the pace up and made an artform out of transporting the ball down court to the crane-like right arm of Tuivaiti, who finished the match with 31 from 34 attempts. Her teenage sidekick, Tiana Metuarau, made a vital contribution too, of 18 from 22.
The Stars refused to take a loss lying down, though, and carried on fighting, especially on defence; Fitzpatrick in particular making her presence felt at goal keep, with four smart intercepts. In the end, they had their best quarter of the match, level-pegging with the victorious Pulse.
Shooting Stats – Stars
Wilson: 34/43 @79%
Rusivakula: 7/9 @ 78%
Vaka: 3/5 @ 60%
Shooting Stats - Pulse
Tuivaiti: 31/34 @ 91%
Amaru-Tibble: 4/6 @ 67%
Matuarau: 18/22 @ 82%
MVP: Katrina Grant (Pulse)