I've learnt my lesson, warns Corey Webster
For the five survivors, the pain is still raw.
The Wellington Saints entered last year's NBL Final Four with a 14-2 record and as red-hot $1.50 favourites to claim the title; only to crumble under pressure in a 81-66 semifinal loss to eventual winners the Southland Sharks.
The limp loss cost coach Pero Cameron his job, and half of the playing squad have also moved on.
Those with a chance to make amends tomorrow night are Lindsay Tait, Corey Webster, Damien Ekenasio, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le'afa and Jordan Mills.
Tait, playing with an injured thumb, shot 0/7 against the Sharks, while Webster went 9/25 as the Saints slunk out of Pettigrew Green Arena in shock.
"The guys who were involved last year are definitely looking for some payback," Webster said ahead of tomorrow night's semifinal against the Nelson Giants at Wellington's TSB Bank Arena.
"Last year's semifinal loss really hurt us and we felt like we underachieved. The main thing we learnt is you can't take any team for granted.
"We had played Southland the game before the semi and blew them out by 20 points or something.
"So going into the semifinal we took it too light and they came out and played a good team game. We also had a couple of injuries - not to blame that, but it didn't help. There's a focus and determination to get the job done."
Webster, who will have an increased role at the NZ Breakers next season following the release of Daryl Corletto, is an MVP frontrunner after averaging 26.5 points per game and shooting a league-best 44.8 per cent from three-point range.
His scoring ability comes naturally and is unquestioned but new coach Shane Heal - no shooting slouch himself - has challenged the 25-year-old to improve his decision making and passing game.
"I've always believed I can play a point guard role as well and get other people involved, get assists," Webster said.
"Shane's made it more of a focal point for me, as well as scoring, getting others involved and keeping the flow of the game good. I think I've made good improvements with that and he's helped me out a lot. Accolades are good for the confidence but I'm trying to win the championship, that's the main goal. None of the other stuff really matters until we win."
The Saints have had a strange season.
They won their first five games despite limited preparation, endured a mid-season slump and then peeled off four straight wins to finish second with a 12-6 record - jettisoning three imports along the way.
"But that's sport, you have your ups and downs," Webster said. "And the best teams always bounce back from the downs. We had injuries and import changes, it was a bit of a mess during the middle of the season but we've come together nicely and are playing some good team ball."
Tait (hamstring) and Webster (ribs) sat out Sunday's 83-82 win over the Waikato Pistons but Webster swatted away any concerns about their health.
"Mine wasn't an impact injury, just a twisting movement and I hurt the cartilage in my ribs a little bit.
"The last couple of practices I've taken it a bit easy but we'll both be ready to go."
The Dominion Post