Magic braces for Mystics backlash
Their round one performance was excellent, now can they back it up?
That's the burning question which will be answered tonight when the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic take on the Northern Mystics in the second round of the trans-Tasman league.
After belting the Mainland Tactix 70-46 in Christchurch to get their campaign off to a flying start, the Magic are bracing for a tougher test against their northern neighbours.
The slickness of the new-look Magic's round one performance was a shock to most, and, having given their fans a major boost of optimism with that display, they will be out to show that it wasn't a fluke.
Despite the Mystics being wooden spooners last year, they were touted as a definite top-four prospect for this season. However, they are coming off a 58-34 trouncing by the Vixens in Melbourne and have already been hit hard by injuries, with Kayla Cullen, Anna Harrison and Jodi Tod-Elliott all missing that game, and the latter two only a possibility of returning for this one.
That has thrust former Magic midcourter Jessica Tuki into the Mystics' defence, having previously been looking to re-model herself as a shooter.
While there is a bunch of youngsters in the Mystics' mix, Australian international Julie Corletto will be tough at the defensive end, their shooting combination of Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu is dangerous when hot, and the acquisition of centre Laura Langman from the Magic provides the potential for quality ball all night.
Notwithstanding the Mystics' first-up struggles, Magic coach Julie Fitzgerald felt they "just had one of those games" and would recover well.
"I think the Vixens are a very, very good side, I think they're certainly one of the favourites," she said. "And sometimes you just get games like that, when teams steamroll over the top of you and you're left wondering what was happening.
"They will have worked very hard this week as well, and they'll come out very determined to do better than that in front of their home crowd."
Fitzgerald is likely to go with the same starting seven as last weekend, but suggested there could be a bit of variation, while she has made one change to the 12 in bringing in shooter Malia Paseka in place of midcourter/defender Katherine Coffin.
The Magic have had the luxury of the longest possible turnaround, since playing last Saturday afternoon. That has allowed a third on-court training session and just added to the players' eagerness to get back into action.
"I think it was very, very good for our confidence," Fitzgerald said of an opening-round victory. "And I think it showed that if you work hard enough you get rewards, so they've worked very hard this week and hopefully that'll be the case again."
The Magic have managed to expand a little in their tactical approach, but again, with combinations still fresh, it is essentially still about concentrating on simple things.
Those have included strength onto the ball as well as improving the court balance by getting players in the right areas and ensuring two or three options for the ball.
Should the Magic get up tonight, it really would be a fine fillip for them, going two from two on the road, with seven of their remaining 11 games being at home.
"It would be exciting to get those first two wins but I think, too, just to be able to see that we can maintain that sort of intensity for 60 minutes again this week will be important for us looking forward," Fitzgerald said.