The Adelaide Thunderbirds completed the trifecta of misery for Kiwi teams in the transtasman league this weekend, out-hustling the previously unbeaten Northern Mystics in Auckland last night.
After the Steel and the Magic both suffered nail-biting losses to the Fever and Vixens respectively earlier on in the round, it was hoped the Mystics could finish off the weekend on a positive note.
But the well-drilled Thunderbirds had done their homework on the Auckland side, having an answer for every change the Mystics introduced to their line-up.
The loss was a huge blow to the Mystics, who were hoping to keep pace with the Vixens atop the ANZ Championship table.
With a tough run of away matches over the next four weeks, including two trips across the Tasman to take on the Vixens and Firebirds, the Mystics must quickly address how they cope with relentless one-on-one defence of the Australian teams or face losing further ground on the leaders.
Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson's pre-game prediction that the match would be a "low-scoring and very defensive game" did not quite eventuate, with the Adelaide side racking up 50 goals despite a lot of attention from the Mystics defence.
Despite the desperate efforts of Anna Harrison (nee Scarlett) and Kayla Cullen, the Mystics failed to stop the high ball in to Carla Borrego, with the Jamaican shooter finding easy space under the goal, helping her to an impressive 34 from 38 return.
Mystics coach Debbie Fuller said her side did not put enough pressure on the Thunderbirds midcourt.
"What we wanted to do defensively was pressure their second-phase, but we didn't do that enough," said Fuller.
"It's hard to stop Borrego, so you've got to stop [the ball] out front."
But Fuller said her side's biggest failing was on attack, where they allowed the Thunderbirds to dictate the pace, and force them into making basic errors.
"They forced us in to playing a running game and we needed to be able to change direction on them on attack."
The Mystics made a dominant start to the match, opening with a run of four unanswered goals as the Thunderbirds struggled to switch in to "Kiwi mode" and adjust to the different patterns in defence.
But the Thunderbirds soon cottoned on to what the Mystics were doing and answered with a 5-0 run of their own to get their noses in front on the back of good defensive stops.
The Mystics were making good defensive plays too, but with shooter Maria Tutaia having a quiet start to the match, shooting four from nine in the opening quarter, a lot of the turnover ball went unexploited.
Trailing 12-9 at the first break, the Mystics started with strong resolve in the second period, fighting back to level the score at 16-all, with the injection of Grace Rasmussen in the midcourt adding further speed to the Auckland attack.
But a well-timed "injury time-out" from the Thunderbirds took the sting out of the Mystics surge, and by halftime the visitors had seized control of the match again, leading 27-22.
It was clear something drastic was needed from the Mystics but few would have expected a move as radical as moving sharpshooter Cathrine Latu to the bench. That saw Tutaia and Rasmussen pair up in the goal circle, re-establishing the old partnership formed with the Auckland Diamonds in the old domestic league.
The more mobile pairing opened up the attack end more, sparking another comeback from the home side, clawing their way back in to the match by the end of the third quarter.
Down 36-38 heading into the final spell, the Mystics battled hard coming up with a couple of good defensive steals, but the Thunderbirds continued to find easy passage into the deadly accurate Borrego.
In yesterday's other match-up, the NSW Swifts made it back-to-back wins when they upset the defending champion Queensland Firebirds 54-49 in Sydney.
The Swifts successfully dismantled the Firebirds game on the back of a committed and gutsy second half following a mixed opening 30 minutes. The result set the Swifts back on an even keel as they notched their second win from four starts.
Round four of the ANZ Championship wraps up tonight in Porirua where the Central Pulse are looking to rebound against the Canterbury Tactix.By Dana Johannsen Email Dana