The Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic's unbeaten start to the season has got even better after upsetting the Vixens in Melbourne this evening.
In their first hitout against Australian opposition, the Magic played a tenacious game to maintain their place at the top of the trans-Tasman league table via a 49-44 victory at Hisense Arena.
In a match dominated by the competition's two best defensive duos, the shooters had their work cut out, with space in the circle rather claustrophobic.
The Magic's Jo Harten (28/35) squared off with English counterpart Geva Mentor, while Ellen Halpenny (21/26) did well in the face of Bianca Chatfield.
At the other end of the court, Silver Ferns stars Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin were able to keep Karyn Bailey (18/19) and Tegan Caldwell (16/19) in check, and while Catherine Cox (10/13) added some late spark, the visitors were able to hold on.
The Magic had no trouble in adjusting to the Australian umpires, penalised just 54 times to the Vixens' 74, with new coach Julie Fitzgerald a huge part of being able to execute a quality game-plan against the Aussies.
Fitzgerald handed Jamie-Lee Price - the daughter of rugby league legend Steve - the first start of her career. The 18-year-old wing defence had impressed in her two 30-minute cameos off the bench this season, which followed her lone 15 minute stint in 2013.
Today she marked one of the best midcourters in the business in Madison Robinson, but looked right at home to provide a steady through-court defence.
The Magic got the start they were after, with an early 3-0 buffer to help their confidence, but a couple of lapses in the shooting circle had the Vixens go on a five-goal run.
Despite Harten missing two shots in the first quarter the Magic did enough good stuff to hold a 14-13 advantage at quartertime.
The tight tussle continued through the second quarter, with neither team giving an inch.
Bailey missed a simple shot and the Magic went up by three, before a questionable contact call on Harten had the hosts up court and tying the game at 17-17, then going ahead by one.
But in the couple of minutes before halftime the momentum swung back the Magic's way, and Kopua pulled off an intercept which allowed her team to convert and go to the break ahead 25-22.
Vixens coach Simone McKinnis brought Amy Steel on at wing defence in place of Kate Moloney in order to try and combat Grace Rasmussen.
An early error by the Vixens to open the third period had the Magic take the biggest lead of the game, then made that five, and six
Four goals on the trot saw the home side storm back, but Kopua and de Bruin fed off one another with some excellent aerial work. A woefully stray Robinson ball was then punished with a beautiful long-range Harten goal to make the margin six.
The Vixens then called a timeout to sort things out. The Magic returned to extend the lead to seven, then play was stopped again for Cox to be introduced at goal shoot, with Bailey moving to goal attack.
With a Chatfield intercept, the Vixens landed two much-needed goals before three-quartertime, but still faced a 39-34 deficit.
The Magic just required a steady final 15 minutes, and while Harten missed a sitter early in the period which had the Vixens back to within four, the visitors were soon enough comfortable again after another great snatch from Kopua and a six-goal run which had the lead hit 10, before a late comeback by the hosts.
The Magic face another Aussie opponent in their next match, taking on the West Coast Fever in Mt Maunganui next Sunday night, while the Vixens travel to Christchurch to face the Mainland Tactix.
- Waikato Times