Basketball: Breakers back in their stride

Rosell Ellis of the Crocs holds his defence against Paul Henare of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images
Rosell Ellis of the Crocs holds his defence against Paul Henare of the Breakers. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Breakers rediscovered their mojo tonight to firm as Australian National Basketball League (ANBL) favourites.

The league leaders repelled a feisty fightback from the Townsville Crocodiles to win a low scoring affair 66-65 in Auckland and end a brief period of angst after they had lost their previous two matches.

With the semifinals fast approaching, the Breakers are still best placed to secure the minor premiership, with tonight's result lifting their season's return to 19 wins and five losses, while second-placed Townsville fell to 14 and nine.

Star shooting guard Kirk Penney celebrated his 100th match for the Auckland-based team with a game-high 20 points.

Mika Vukona was another influential figure, contributing 10 points, pulling down eight rebounds and providing six assists while American big man Gary Wilkinson chimed in with 12 points.

Townsville were hamstrung by mediocre shooting and while Luke Schenscher topscored for them with 16 points, as a team they converted just 23 of 67, or 34 percent of their attempts from the field.

That they pushed the Breakers so hard owed everything to their determination and willpower because their skill level under the basket left a lot to be desired.

It was hard to believe these were the best two teams in the league based on a ragged first quarter, when Townsville led 14-12 after an arm wrestle and wretched shooting from both sides.

But the Breakers exploded into life offensively in the second quarter when they came storming out of the blocks to go on a 15-2 rip.

They forged 18 points clear of the visitors at 34-16 before the Crocodiles knuckled down to claw their way back to 30-38 at the main interval. It was a gutsy fightback from Townsville and it kept them in the contest.

Penney stepped up a gear in the early minutes of the second half and three quick baskets from the Tall Blacks international enabled the Breakers to extend their lead to 11 before.

The sides then traded baskets for the remainder of the period until late in the piece when the Crocodiles' tenacity was rewarded as they dragged themselves to eight behind at 48-56.

The Australians maintained that momentum to suddenly be a threat at 54-56 early in the last stanza then Penney sunk a three-pointer as the Breakers ended a barren spell which lasted almost three minutes 30 seconds.

Kevin Braswell did likewise at a crucial time 1min 30sec from the end to give his side a six-point buffer and Vukona picked up another important steal with 52sec remaining to deny the Crocodiles in the half circle.

But the Australians refused to go away, and a pair of free throws from Will Blalock, who ended with 15 points, slashed the difference to one point 20sec from the finish.

The Breakers then tossed away the ball due to a loose pass, leaving Townsville in possession, but they couldn't get a clean shot away.

The Breakers' next match is again against Townsville, in north Queensland on March 12.

- NZPA

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