A huge show of character has kept the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's 2014 winning run intact, after a tense victory over the Southern Steel in Hamilton last night.
In front of a disappointingly small crowd at Claudelands Arena, the Magic prevailed 61-57 in a thrilling round three contest, getting the job done on the back of a much improved second-half display.
The Magic had won their first two games in convincing fashion, but were made to work way harder for this one, being down by five at halftime.
The Steel are the New Zealand team they have had the most trouble against, and the southerners again showed why, with a gritty display that pushed the hosts till the finish, as they desperately tried to get their first win of the season.
It seemed arguably the competition's best defensive pairing, Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin, had no answers for massive Jamaican Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, who landed 39/40 alongside Jodi Brown (18/21).
At 1.98m, last year's MVP was at her aerial best, using her eight centimetre height advantage over de Bruin to good effect.
But all that hussling the Magic pair put in, ended paying dividends late in the piece, with de Bruin coming up with a couple of instrumental tips in front of the tall timber.
The Magic were again guilty of too many turnovers on attack, but had enough class in the end to get them through.
Jo Harten (39/42) was again accurate and instrumental, while Ellen Halpenny (22/29) had her moments.
The Steel got out to an early three-goal advantage, but through some inspiring touches from Kopua, the Magic took the lead 12-11 and clung to a one-goal advantage at quarter time, having put up three more shots than their opponents.
A couple of slips in concentration and poor option taking early in the second stanza had the home side concede five goals on the trot to be down 21-18, but they fought back to tie things up.
There was the odd moment of brilliance - like when Harten missed the ball and fell out of court but was on hand to finish when Halpenny plucked it out of the air and landed ever so close to the baseline before passing back inside - but there were too many costly errors.
The Magic committed seven turnovers in that second quarter and soon enough the Steel capitalised for a 32-27 halftime buffer.
But Julie Fitzgerald introduced Jamie-Lee Price at wing defence in place of Bessie Manu, which brought some more physicality to the midcourt.
The deficit was quickly reduced to two, with Price soon instrumental in winning the ball in a heavy collision.
The Magic were back on level pegging late in the quarter after Fowler-Reid threw back in court to a black dress, and with captain courageous Kopua clutching her head after a heavy knock, and then spending more time sprawled on the court, Harten shot for 45-44 three-quartertime lead and a big momentum swing.
The hosts brought a more patient game to the final quarter, not afraid to work the ball backwards in order to go forward, and went ahead by three, despite the hoist attempt from Rachel Rasmussen and Phoenix Karaka, before a stray Steel pass saw the Magic go out to 54-49 with nine minutes left.
The Steel looked back in the mix when two behind and Harten stepped out of court, but two successive de Bruin tips had them back in the box seat.
Things remained tight right till the death, and who else but Kopua came up with a brilliant ball-win in the final two minutes which was the clinching of the game.
The Magic now face a real test of where they're at, with a tough trip to Melbourne to face the Vixens on Sunday afternoon, while the Steel have a speedy turnaround to face the West Coast Fever in Dunedin on Saturday.
- Waikato Times
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