SKYCITY Mystics retained their position at the head of the New Zealand conference after subduing a spirited Mainland Tactix challenge 61-53 in Auckland on Sunday.
The home team built a winning platform on the back of powerful second quarter while also coming home strongly in the last quarter. The winless Tactix threatened at times, a strong third stanza leaving them well in the contest but untimely turnovers stalling their momentum.
The Mystics shooting combination of Maria Tutaia and Cathrine Latu turned on an impressive outing, the pair providing an intuitive understanding in the home team’s circle. Latu delivered one her best efforts of the season, near-impeccable timing and positioning leaving her well-placed to return a 37-goal haul from 42 attempts.
The Mystics made a surprise call in their midcourt pairing with Nadia Loveday getting her first start of the season, at centre, while Laura Langman made a rare move to wing attack. After coming off the bench in recent matches, Temalisi Fokahokotau got the start at goalkeeper.
Bailey Mes (goal attack) and Mwai Kumwenda got the nod as the shooting duo for the Tactix with Erikana Pedersen starting at wing attack.
The opening stanza provided a close tussle highlighted by a flurry of turnovers in a messy start by both sides. The athletic shooting duo was good value for the visitors with Kumwenda, in particular, reeling in some spectacular aerial ball.
After level-pegging through the quarter, the Tactix squeezed a narrow 13-12 lead at the first break.
The tide quickly turned on the resumption. Despite Langman not returning to the court after suffering a hip injury, the home picked up the intensity to deliver a dominant second quarter.
Millie Lees slipped in seamlessly for Langman as the Mystics showed fine flow and accuracy on attack. As well as continuing her excellent recent shooting form, Tutaia played a prominent feeding role, finding her shooting partner Latu with ease as the home team built a healthy buffer.
At the other end, sterling defensive work, where England import Serena Guthrie was a constant thorn, stopped the supply to the Tactix shooters. Chloe Williams replaced Pedersen in the latter stages of the half joined by Louise Thayer who took over at goal defence from Demelza Fellowes as the visitors were left staring down a 31-23 deficit at the main break.
The introduction of the speedy and creative Gemma Hazeldine for Mes and the spirited defensive work of Thayer helped inspire a Tactix comeback in the third stanza.
Keeping the Mystics honest and making better use of their turnover opportunities, the visitors chipped away at the deficit to have the better of the third quarter exchanges. Hazeldine’s energy lifted her team-mates as she helped add flow in opening up the Tactix attacking end, Kumwenda a major beneficiary in getting clean ball close to the post.
Getting themselves back into the contest and with it the prospect of an exciting run to the line, Tactix halved the half-time deficit when the Mystics took a 45-41 lead into the last break.