Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel v Robinhood Stars – Round 11 - May 15, 2023
The Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel bore the brunt of a desperate Robinhood Stars outfit, going down 58-47 in tonight’s ANZ Premiership showdown in Invercargill.
Hanging on precariously to a finals berth, the game was the Stars to lose and the visitors quickly shrugged off any pressure to control the encounter.
Staring down a 7-goal deficit as the first quarter woes threatened to set in, some determined defence enabled the Steel to claw their way back into the match.
Smothering defence from Stars defensive pairing Elle Temu and Holly Fowler forced the Steel attack to get crafty, with both Georgia Heffernan and Saviour Tui impressing to keep the home side in touch on the scoreboard at halftime.
With everything to play for, it was the Stars who burst out of the changing shed and dominated all facets of the court. In contrast, the Steel was simply unable to sustain the intensity needed as the Stars plucked vital possession to launch a scoring rampage.
While the damage was done, the Steel managed to salvage some pride by narrowly winning the last phase of the clash – a token reward for its tireless work ethic.
Coach Reinga Bloxham felt the potential for the game to be season-defining proved the ultimate motivation for the Stars.
“I thought they were really hungry – you could see it. There was body on the line and everything. They really brought it and we knew they would and that’s what you want to see is that determination and fight to control their own destiny,” she said.
“It was definitely a physical battle – probably more than I was expecting to be honest – but they had to leave it all out on court.
“For us, there were a few errors that were a little bit uncharacteristic and I think we were probably a little bit nervy where we didn’t need to be. Once we found our feet we were away. But you can’t give those guys a sniff because they are just too good and too safe with possession.”
The Steel had “one more shot” to avoid a winless campaign when they take on the Avis Magic at ILT Stadium Southland on Sunday.
“The fight is still there, the fire in the belly is definitely there. The thing about tonight is that you can’t fault effort. You saw people going for ball trying to create things and that’s what makes me feel really proud as a coach. If we can bring that next week, it’s coming.”
Guided by an almost perfect shooting performance by Maia Wilson, the Stars have taken a stride closer to the league’s Finals Series. Wilson continued to produce a career-best shooting this season with a 98 percent accuracy – 42 from 43 – converting superb ball from the Stars feeders.
History will show it was the Steel’s 17th loss in a row – the longest losing run in the franchise’s history. Yet they were still in the game at halftime, down by four but remaining competitive, and even took out the final quarter.
But the Stars completely owned the ‘championship’ third quarter, winning those 15 minutes by eight goals, mentally wearing down a home side desperate for victory in 2023.
The Stars can now focus on their final regular season match next Sunday against the MG Mystics to secure their place in the top three.
With Australian Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich in the bleachers as a keen observer, intensive defensive pressure forced the Steel into early handling errors, and the Stars raced out to an 8-2 lead.
But the Steel responded with a run of four, after Kate Burley and Te Huinga Reo Selby Rickit combined well to frustrate the Stars shooters and Tui again on song in the shooting circle, nicely fed by her shooting companion, Heffernan.
They closed the gap to 14-11 at the end of the first spell, and soon into the second quarter got within one of the Stars.
Having brought Jamie Hume on at goal attack after the break, to replace the off-kilter Amorangi Malesala, the Stars pushed ahead again. Player of the match Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (with 56 circle edge feeds for the match) and fellow midcourter Gina Crampton, found Wilson inside the circle with quick and accurate hands.
But the Steel were sticking with them, and with Burley making four gains and four deflections, they were only four goals off the pace at halftime.
And then the Stars turned on the afterburners. They ramped up their defence starting from Holly Fowler and Elle Temu making it increasingly difficult for the Steel to get the ball in to their shooters - and quickly switched onto the offensive whenever they nabbed turnover ball.
Down 47-35 at the final turn, the Steel introduced Courtney Elliott at goal defence to try to rattle the Stars shooters - which was when Wilson missed her first shot of the match.
At one point the Stars had 15 goals on the Steel, but the home team were determined to salvage pride and brought it back to win the final stanza 12-11 – Tui ending with an impressive 35 from 41.
Shooting Stats - Steel:
Saviour Tui 35/41 (85.4%)
Georgia Heffernan 12/16 (75%)
Shooting Stats - Stars:
Maia Wilson 42/43 (97.7%)
Amorangi Malesala 13/20 (65%)
Jamie Hume 3/5 (60%)
MVP: Mila Reuelu-Buchanan (Stars