Finalists found for 'AA' secondary schools champs

By Basketball New Zealand

The two best basketball teams from New Zealands larger secondary schools will meet tomorrow in the semi-finals of the AA SAS Secondary Schools National Championships.

Boys AA Final Preview - Rangitoto College V Palmerston North Boys' High School

Defending champions Rangitoto College will be hard to upset after dominant performances throughout the tournament. Head Coach Kenny Stone has fostered unbridled belief in his team and he's taking that confidence into Saturday night's Grand Final.

"We're looking forward to the challenge. We came in wanting to not just get to the final, but it's about winning tomorrow and that's what we're here to do.

"We know that every time we step out there we have targets on our back from being defending champions. I think we have built a bit of reputation for Rangi as far as a basketball school, which is excellent for our programme. We expect to take anybody's best shot no matter what - I don't think there's pressure, we've been in these tough games, we've been in semi-finals and finals, so I think we're comfortable playing in these big games. We're just looking forward to the chance.

After his recent scholarship commitment to Division 1 University of Miami, Sam Waardenburg is being closely watched. After coolly controlling the semi-final with an effortless double double, hell be a marked man, but Stone says Waardenburg and the likes of Junior Tall Blacks Dan Fotu or Brayden Inger never carry the pressure alone.

"The beauty of our team is that we play as a team. Yesterday in the quarter finals our bench stepped up in the fourth to get us a good lead when everyone else had struggled. Harry Clarke came off the bench and hit threes in todays semi-final. It is about the team, it's not about Sam, or Braydon, or Dan, or any of those big name players - it's nice to have definitely, but we're more about everybody and I don't think there's a team that can stop all of us - they can concentrate on one or two, but I think we're too deep."

Standing in Rangitoto's way will be Palmerston North Boys', who have surely become Palmerston's favourite sons after showing clear heads and sheer grit to overcome New Plymouth Boys' in the semi-final. Palmy Boys' were the reason the capacity crowd screamed the house down at Central Energy Trusts Arena. The local support will be intimidating and was perhaps the factor that pushed the hometown hopefuls ahead of a staunch New Plymouth Boys'. Palmerston's scorers stretch across the roster - all can drill baskets under pressure. They have shown clear heads matter and every one of their players will be looking to take down the heavy-weights from the North Shore.

Girls AA Final Preview - St Peters Cambridge V Mt Albert Grammar

The final of the girls AA event is a fine example of the deepening pool of New Zealand female talent and its no surprise that a number of U.S. Colleges have been in attendance at the Secondary Schools Nationals.

Defending Champions and tournament favourites St Peter's Cambridge have a very young team of stars with national representatives Charlisse Leger-Walker, Ella Bradley and Kendell Heremaia likely to return next year. Should they win the Final, pundits are throwing the phrases three-peat, four-peat and five-peat back and forth... but with strong emphasis on the 'if'.

Mt Albert Grammar will be looking to melt the possibility of that fairy tale being written. They also feature a very young and talented team. They're coming off a dominate semi-final performance and could have the tools for an upset in the likes of Va'ai Moanekah, Sharne Pupuke-Robati and Trinity Paeu, who can string together compelling basketball alongside the reliable support of the wider team.

Semi-Final Game Reports:

Girls Semi-Final 1: St Peter's v Westlake Girls (30/9/2016)

Junior Tall Fern Kendall Heremia opened the scoring for Cambridge, but both sides made a nervous start with loose passes. Westlake were finding success on the boards, converting second-chance opportunities to jump out to a four point lead. An aggressive drive and finish from Junior Tall Fern Zara Jillings extended their lead to six, but the ever present Charlisse Leger-Walker (yes, another Junior Tall Fern) lifted St Peter's with a couple of smooth drives to the basket. She was helped by Kendell Heremia, who grabbed back to back baskets and St Peter's edged the first quarter 16-15.

Westlake connected with their shots early in the second quarter, giving them a four point lead as they dished the leather with precision. St Peter's continued to drive hard to the hoop, gladly picking up free-throw opportunities as a result of the stout defence. A classic battle emerged between Leger-Walker and Jillings, with both players stepping up and leveling the half-time score 34-34.

Leger-Walker had her fingerprints all over the ball in the third quarter, breezing past defenders with ease and regularly appearing at the free-throw line. She showed off her range, knocking down a three, but the skillful Tiarna Clarke answered with a three of her own.

Heremia brought the crowd to their feet with a quick spin move and finish, before Clarke hit a tough off the dribble three as the intensity of the game ramped up.

St Peter's led by three heading into the final quarter, as the lead began to swing between both teams. Jayze Waihi hit a jumper to put St Peter's up by four, but Westlake roared back courtesy of an and-one from the ever-determined Jillings. Clarke coolly nailed yet another brilliant three, but a handy runner from Heremia brought St Peter's back within one.

A jumper from Heremia threw St Peter's back into the lead, before Clarke replied with two free throws. With under 30 seconds to go, Ella Bradley got a crucial rebound off a Leger-Walker miss, forcing Westlake to foul Heremia, who was perfect from the line, giving St Peter's a three point lead.

Westlake had just under three seconds to tie the game, but fittingly Leger-Walker smartly deflected the long range heave out of bounds to give St Peter's a hard fought 79-76 win in a highly skillful contest.

Leger-Walker was outstanding, playing all 40 minutes and contributing 30 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists. She was well-supported by Heremaia, who also played 40 minutes and gathered 26 points and 14 rebounds.

For Westlake, Zara Jillings was superb with 26 points and 8 rebounds. Clarke also showed her class and game intelligence with 20 points, shooting 4/5 from outside the arc.

Final score - St. Peters Cambridge 79, Westlake 76.

Girls Semi-Final 1: Auckland Girls' Grammar v Mt Albert Grammar (30/9/2016)

Auckland Girls' Grammar took an early lead with the first bucket of the game, although Mt Albert Grammar quickly hit back through Sharne Pupuke-Robati. It was an open game to start, with both teams happy to run the floor and push the pace. Both sides showed an eagerness to score from deep but struggled for accuracy. It was close to begin, before Mt Albert Grammar started to push ahead with their smart passing game, gaining the edge 15-6 after the first quarter.

Mt Albert Grammar continued to showcase their passing game, finding team mates for easy points. Mele Latu scored consecutive baskets in the key as Auckland Grammar tried to claw their way back but Pupuke-Robati countered with some strong moves of her own. Auckland Grammar finally connected on a pair of threes from Tyla Tuala but they struggled to penetrate a solid defence from Mt Albert Grammar.

They'd built a double-digit lead heading into the third quarter, with Pupuke-Robati continuing to dominate in the post. Team mate Trinity Paeu was also busy under the basket, finishing strongly to help Mt Albert Grammar build a lead.

Auckland Girls' Grammar decided to look for their inside shot and were rewarded as they closed the gap to seven early in the fourth quarter. However, Va'ai Moanekah snatched it away from them, pouring in six unanswered points, before Rhyannon Poto expertly found Paeu to regain their advantage.

Mt Albert Grammar kept the pressure on and countered well every time Auckland Girls' Grammar tried to hit back. After Papa Rionne scored again close to the hoop, Auckland Girls' Grammar were back within 10 points. But as she did all game, Pupuke-Robati converted an and-one to douse any chance of an Auckland Girls' Grammar win. Mt Albert Girls' Grammar proved too good, taking it out 75-58.

Pupuke-Robati starred with 27 points and 15 rebounds, while Paeu finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

Rionne put up 18 points and 7 rebounds in a losing effort, while Tuala had 15 points and 6 rebounds.

Final score: Mt Albert Girls' Grammar 75, Auckland Girls' Grammar 58

Boys Semi-Final 1: Rangitoto v Auckland Grammar

Rangitoto forward Sam Waardenburg got things underway by adding the first points of the game. A strong basket from Daniel Fotu gave them an early lead over Auckland Grammar, who got their scoring started from the free throw line. They looked to run their offence by going inside to Samson Aruwa, but his shot was off to start. Both sides were struggling to find their rhythm but it didn't seem to affect Waardenburg too much, who cruised past his defender and effortlessly rose to and dunked. Connor Flanagan made an and-one play and a jumper to bring Auckland Grammar back within two, but they found themselves down by six after the first quarter.

The scrappy game continued in the second quarter as both sides continued to miss shots, although Waardenburg converted an and-one to put Rangitoto up by double digits. Takiula Fahrensohn, who found it tough going against a strong Rangitoto defence, hit a three to give Auckland Grammar some hope, but their offensive struggles continued as they found themselves down 36-25 at half-time.

Another three to Fahrensohn brought Auckland Grammar within six, as both sides found it tough to find any consistent scoring. A Waardenburg and-one and another battling basket to Fotu under the hoop pushed Rangitoto ahead, although Samson bet the buzzer with a three to bring Auckland Grammar back within six points.

Sharp-shooter Thomas Whyte scooped a bucket from outside the arc for Grammar and they closed the gap to three, but consecutive threes from Rangis Brayden Inger cut short any thought of a comeback. Again Waardenburg rose effortlessly to the rim, igniting the crowd with a high-flying alley-oop and Grammar seemed out of contention, Rangitoto racing away to a comfortable 76-59 win.

Waardenburg was highly impressive on his way to 30 points and 16 rebounds, while Fotu helped out with 17 points and 7 rebounds.

Fahrensohn was well-marked but still managed a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds while Aruwa notched up 13 points and five rebounds.

Final Score: Rangitoto 76, Auckland Grammar 59

Boys Semi-final 2: Palmerston North Boys' High School V New Plymouth Boys' High School

In front of a packed out arena, Palmerston North Boys' and New Plymouth Boys' matched each other in a frantic opening quarter. New Plymouth's offence was slick to start as they drained their opening shots, while Palmerston North got the home crowd out of their seats when Haize Walker drained a three pointer.

New Plymouth looked to hit Palmerston North in transition and tire out centre and Junior Tall Black squad member Callum McRae, but Palmerston North used their outside shooting to tie the game up at 15-15 after the first quarter.

A breakaway dunk to Oscar Oswald pumped up the crowd before a couple of three pointers extended their advantage. They were finding the open man with precision and shared the ball effectively. Meanwhile on defence, they switched to a zone which frustrated New Plymouth as they struggled to break through. With time running out on the shot clock, Tama Faamausili chucked up the ball and banked it in, giving Palmerston North a 32-21 half time lead.

The second half opened with a big block from Palmy's Jack Henry, which followed an on-target jumper at the other end, pushing the lead out to 15 as the turnovers from New Plymouth began to mount. Corbin Giddy then hit two three pointers before a couple of baskets swung the game back towards New Plymouth. A tip in from Thane O'Leary brought the lead back to one as the Palmerston North offence crawled to a halt.

A huge three from Oswald bumped the lead back out for Palmerston North, before Baxter Fenwick made a pair of free throws and then a three to close the gap down to three.

They were unable to grab the rebound off a missed Palmerston North shot, and after knocking down a free throw, Palmerston North clinched a 59-53 in front of an electric crowd.

They were led by 14 points and seven rebounds from Henry, while Walker was effective with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

For New Plymouth, Giddy collected 20 points and eight rebounds. Emmerson Potts-Broughton was also solid with 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Final Score: Palmerston North Boys' High 59, New Plymouth Boys' High, 53

- This story has been automatically published using a media release from Basketball New Zealand

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