Basketball: Kiwis on the Road

By Mike Lacey

Micaela Cocks playing for the Tall Ferns. Photo / Getty Images
Micaela Cocks playing for the Tall Ferns. Photo / Getty Images

The Australian WNBL Grand Final series and NCAA College Tournament play headline this week's roundup of action involving our overseas based Tall Blacks and Tall Ferns.

The two best teams in the Australian Women's National Basketball League regular season battled it out in the opening game of the competition's first ever best-of-three Grand Final series on Saturday. It was also the first time a WNBL Final had featured three Kiwi internationals - Micaela Cocks and Chevannah Paalvast for Townsville Fire and Toni Edmondson for Perth Lynx.

An additional New Zealand connection is that Townsville Fire head coach Chris Lucas is also an assistant coach with the Tall Ferns.

Perth enjoyed home advantage courtesy of an emphatic 91-71 semifinal victory in Townsville a fortnight ago but on the back of a stunning fourth quarter charge Townsville have seized momentum with a 73-57 victory.

"The fourth quarter was all about our defense," said Paalvast. "We were able to string multiple stops in a row and kept one of the best offensive teams in the league to seven points."

Indeed it was, Townsville entered the final period trailing 50-45, gave up the first two points of the quarter but dominated from there in with a blistering 28-5 run home.

Cocks was superb for the defending champions amassing 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Nine of her points came at the back end of the final period as the Fire secured a decisive win. Needless to say she was pleased with the Townsville performance.

"I was proud of our team and the way we executed our game plan. Finals basketball is always tough and we found a way to win. We are in a good position heading into game two at home but we know there is still a lot of work to do to achieve our ultimate goal of becoming back to back champions."

The two teams meet in game two in Townsville next Friday with game three back in Perth on Sunday if required. Toni Edmondson, who contributed 5 points to the Lynx effort, will be hoping to take the game back West for a series decider.

American College - Men

Tai Webster was in fine form for Nebraska University Cornhuskers in Big Ten Conference Tournament play on Saturday but couldn't prevent Nebraska being eliminated in the quarter-finals, 97-86, by Maryland.

Tai Webster put in a terrific shift for the Huskers who came back from 25 points in arrears to get within 6 points with 1:38 to play. The Tall Blacks guard finished with a stats line of 17p/3r/1a/2stl/2bl to cap off a fine tournament.
Following his 18 points haul against Rutgers in the opening round Webster was again prominent for the Huskers adding a game high 3 steals to 9 points and 6 rebounds in the second round defeat of Wisconsin.

Jack Salt has seen little court time for the University of Virginia Cavaliers as they advanced to the final of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament only to fall 61-57 to North Carolina in the final.

The Cavs freshman has, like a number of the bench players, been reduced to towel waving duties as his team eased past Georgia Tech and Miami before the championship game showdown.

Despite the loss Virginia carry number one seeding from the Midwest region to the 'Big Dance' where they will take on Hampton in first round action on Friday (NZT).

Also of interest will be the progress of Kentucky University, the home of Tai Wynyard. The Tall Blacks forward has been suiting up for the Wildcats but not taking the floor so is unlikely to play in the NCAA tournament but Kentucky (they play Stony Brook in the first round) usually go deep into proceedings.

American College - Women

It will be a nervous time on Monday (NZT) for Kalani Purcell and all associated with Brigham Young University-Provo as they wait to see if BYU is selected for the upcoming NCAA tournament to be announced.

An invitation would be welcome consolation for BYU after being denied direct entry following a 70-68 West Coast Conference Tournament Grand Final loss to the University of San Francisco last week.

Purcell's outstanding form, 17 points and 16 rebounds in the final, earned her a place in the WCC All-Tournament team but a trip to the "Big Dance' would be something special.

The quintet of Tall Ferns in other college teams fell at different stages of tournament action last week.

Also in the West Coast Conference St Mary's Gaels were defeated 67-65 by San Francisco in the WCC semi-final. The result meant the season ended on a low note for Gaels and Tall Ferns swingman Stella Beck as they were seeded to meet BYU in the final. Beck had 7 points, 3 rebounds and a steal in the loss.

Colgate University senior Josie Stockill finished her outstanding four-year Raiders career on a losing note as they were defeated by Patriot League number one seed Army West Point 89-62.

Stockill finished as Colgate's all time leading shot blocker, 5th in rebounding and 15th in scoring.

California State University Northridge fell at the first hurdle in Big West Tournament play. The Matadors finish the season with a 7-24 record after going down 72-51 against Cal Poly. Cantabrian forward Tessa Boagni had 4 points and 4 boards for the Matadors in that one.

Jacinta Beckley and Seattle University Redhawks also bowed out in its first game of Western Athletic Conference post-season play downed 64-52 by Bakersfield.

The University of California Berkley Golden Bears terrific run in the Pac 12 Conference Tournament came to an end at the semi-final stage.
The Bears entered the tournament ranked 10th and knocked off higher ranked teams Utah (66-63 AOT) and Arizona State (75-64) before going out in the semi's 73-68 against UCLA, again after overtime action.

Penina Davidson scored an impressive career high 17points (7/8FG) against Arizona State but a third game in three days, two going to overtime, took its toll on the Bears in the loss against UCLA.

Europe -Men

Plymouth Raiders, with a 73-69 victory against Glasgow Rocks recorded their second consecutive home win against top five opposition in the British Basketball League on Sunday. Duane Bailey had another strong game with 9 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks to help keep the Raiders inside the top eight.

Also on Sunday Zaragoza was defeated 77-69 at Unicaja in Spanish League action. Isaac Fotu played just 12 minutes for Zaragoza scoring 4 points in a game that his team were pounded 34-17 in the rebound count giving up 21 offensive boards.

Europe - Women

For the second consecutive game Le Mura Lucca were given a real test in the Italian Serie A. Lucca appeared to be cruising to their 22nd victory of the season leading 48-35 in the third period. However a spirited fight back by hosts Di Lupari saw the game tied at 55 points apiece at the end of regulation time. Avoiding their second defeat of the season Lucca scraped home 65-63 with Jillian Harmon scoring 19 points for the victors.

Erin Rooney has had to undergo knee surgery but the Cantabrian is hoping to return to the court for French club COB Calais in April.

- NZ Herald

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