The NSW Swifts have made sure of an all-Australian showdown in the last ANZ Championship Grand Final, with a resounding 64-45 victory over the Cold Power Magic in Hamilton on Monday night.
With lightning speed and shrewd connections, the Swifts escalated their lead with every quarter to snare their third appearance in a Grand Final - making another date with defending champions The Coffee Club Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane on Sunday.
It was the sixth time the Magic and the Swifts had met in finals history, but it was far from the intense contest of eight seasons ago, when the Swifts edged out the Magic by one in the 2008 Major Semi-Final before winning the first-ever ANZ Championship title, with Julie Fitzgerald at the helm. Tonight Fitzgerald couldn't repeat the feat as coach of the Magic.
The Swifts lived up to their name - Kim Green and Laura Langman speedily moving the ball through court to Thwaites, who was always ready and waiting under the hoop. The Magic had to work harder to get to Harten, who was constantly shadowed by Sharni Layton.
Layton was loving her 100th ANZ Championship appearance, determined to be involved in everything at her end of the court, and got the bonus of the MVP award.
The anticipation of the occasion was immediately obvious - as one team would make a basic mistake, the other would repeat it moments later. But the shooters were remarkably composed - both Jo Harten and Caitlin Thwaites not missing a shot in the first 15 minutes.
Magic had the chance to go into the first break on equal footing, but under pressure they threw it away, and Thwaites scored right on the buzzer to give the Swifts a 16-14 lead.
Early in the second spell, the Swifts had extended their advantage to five. Although the Magic won hard-earned turnovers, forced by Leana de Bruin and Jamie-Lee Price, they lost their links on attack and couldn't turn them into desperately needed points.
But the Swifts could barely put a foot wrong, using superior speed and self-assurance to keep on scoring till they led 33-24 at halftime.
Down by 12, the Magic looked for something new, moving wing attack Grace Rasmussen into the shooting circle to support Harten. But still the Swifts strode on, up 49-31 going into the final quarter, and could afford to ease off the accelerator slightly in the last 15 minutes.
Magic Shooting Statistics
Joanne Harten 38/42 (90%)
Ellen Halpenny 5/9 (56%)
Grace Rasmussen 2/2 (100%)
Swifts Shooting Statistics
Caitlin Thwaites 43/46 (93%)
Susan Pettitt 15/19 (79%)
Stephanie Wood 6/8 (75%)
MVP: Sharni Layton (Swifts)