The 80 players tussling their way through the marathon Schick 3X3 Cup have run all the way to finals day. This tournament is a series flat-out sprints, shoves, spills and shooting. Surely this is an event where only the fit survive, where after two relentless days there’s still 28 games to come – eight hours for hoops that will conclude tomorrow night with two grand finals.
Which men’s and women’s team will make history tomorrow night is hard to guess. Technically any team can rightfully harbour hope of winning the silverware, but some have an easier path than others.
Dark horses, the Tasman Suns, have emerged from the pack like Seabiscuit at Santa Anita. They have topped Pool A and are the only unbeaten men’s team.
Player Coach Sam Dempster was all smiles after taking out the Nuggets in their final match today.
“It’s such a fast and physical game. We got four guys who are from Nelson and we’ve been working hard over the last couple of weeks to make sure we are as in-shape and as ready for this as possible. We are confident and excited for whatever comes tomorrow,” says Dempster.
Nelson Tasman residents must surely be buying Sky Sport subscriptions to tune in tomorrow. Although, what lies ahead for the Suns is a wave of threat, it would be unwise to rule out any other team. The Taranaki Mountainairs are a good example. The Airs have sunk to the bottom of their Pool, but look closer and you’ll see they have been unlucky, having been within a bucket of winning two games and shots not quite falling their way. This is a team that has four New Zealand representatives who have played on the world stage. Should a team like that gel on any given day, they would be unstoppable. That goes for most of these teams.
Meanwhile the Southland Sharks had a mixed day. After dispatching NZ Select 22-13 in the afternoon session the team was below par in the evening suffering defeats to the Auckland Hiskies (21-15) and the Franklin Bulls (21-13), meaning the side qualifies third in its pool and will face the Otago Nuggets at 2:33pm tomorrow in the quarter-finals. It’s the first time the teams have played each other in an NBL competition since 2014.
The women’s tournament has been a display of skill and class. Pool toppers, the Auckland Dream and Harbour Breeze are a Grand Final in the making. Throughout the last two days, both have dominated and never in doubt.
The well-known Harbour Breeze roster of Ella Fotu, Brooke Blair, Jazz Kailahi-Fulu and Ashleigh Kelman-Poto would have to be odds-on favourites. Their games are a communications masterclass with every player able to shoot from deep and muscle up points inside, using telepathy with every spot on pass. Fast, furious and physical sums up them up, as well as the event.
The Auckland Dream is less known locally, but a quick study of their roster reveals players who have excelled in NCAA hoops. Casyn Buchman, Darci Finnigan, Arielle Williams-Mackey each boast US College ball accolades. And Arielle Williams-Mackey, the Tai Wananga ki Ruakura high school student, is an U18 NZ rep, Junior Tall Fern and touted as a young talent that is destined for Tall Ferns duties.
You can’t help but feel for the Canterbury Wildcats. They have been at a disadvantage today with Tessa Morrison side-lined with injury, but Rosalalia, Lauryn Hippolite and Emma Trolove really stepped up. Hippolite must be one of the fittest athletes in this event – running a marathon today. They could still cause some upsets.
All games will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 3. Games tip off at midday. The women’s final are scheduled to be at played at 9:45pm and the men’s at 10:11pm.
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