Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pulse bring victory down to 20 second 'wire'

Last night's close victory to the Central Haier Pulse against the West Coast Fever came as an exciting relief to very partisan fans in the TSB Arena. Pulse had just lost their ball at the goal circle. Fever were due their centre pass and the score 53-52.  Fever had about 20 seconds in which to score - quite achievable for such a classy team. The whistle went and suddenly 'Hu' - Te Huinga Selby-Rickit - whisked away the ball from the Fever centre pass. The crowd were roaring, and the Pulse very carefully (although nearly not precisely enough) passed the ball around, before a sudden bullet pass to shooter Caitlin Thwaites. By then it was too late for the Pulse shooters, the Fever or anyone else. The very close-fought game was over and the Pulse victors by one shot, and freed from the bogey of "extra time".

The Pulse began erratically. At times they showed commendable skill in careful and dexterous passing; at other times they just squandered the ball. No one player was responsible; it was a joint effort. However, in saying this, it is also important to recognise the achievements of the Fever. They have wonderful centre court ball carriers in people like Shae Bolton, Ashleigh Brazill and Verity Simmons. The first two in the early stages were having issues with the different style of New Zealand umpiring, and a high penalty count mounted. Also Eboni Beckford Chambers and Josie Janz (before she left court)  in defence made scoring difficult, while the effective shooting team of Caitlin Bassett (31/32)and Catherine Cox (18/20) defied strong Pulse defence to keep scoring. Kate Beveridge scored 3/3.

Apparently Robyn Broughton gave her team a pep talk at half time, and the Pulse improved. Goal attack Donna Wilkins had a superb game shooting 25 from 25, and provided a much needed inroad to the circle for shooter Caitlin Thwaites (28/33). When Wilkins couldn't pass, she turned and shot - a perfect shot every time. Wow!  Liana Liota did deft pin-point passing into the circle, while Camilla Lees improved after a ragged start to feed effectively. Circle feeding defenders such as Lees and Bolton for the Fever, have to watch over-zealous defence doesn't result in shooters being advanced to take the shot. Katrina Grant retrieved some excellent ball for her team. However, turnovers didn't always result in conversions, to everyone's frustration. Pulse must improve on this.

The second half was much better for the Pulse. For a time they soared ahead. However, with wily Fever opponents, goal advantage can disappear like lightning. Errors and infringements can cost dearly, even when you're not entirely sure what these are for. In one case I opted to postpone judgment until I got home and saw the Sky feed, but the "infringement" still remained unfathomable to me. However, refereeing such a fast game, with a very partisan, noisy crowd; along with player comments do not make the referees' job an easy one. One end with a male referee seemed to heavily penalise defensive players of both teams; the other female referee also upheld the rights of attackers to a smooth shot, but with less whistle. The referees' experience must have been torrid, as they looked grim afterwards. But they were an important part of a very enjoyable (though nerve-wracking) game.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Pulse victory (63-48) fast, high-scoring game.

Last night's game by Haier Pulse against the Mystics was fast and edgy, showing excellent defensive depth within the circle by both sides. At the beginning, the Mystics' Julie Corletto and Jess Moulds made in-circle feeding into a tortuous and skilful affair. The Pulse had to bend, dodge, feint and whisk the ball through  to secure possession and goal-score. Hamish Bidwell in this morning's DomPost indicated that the Pulse were 'barely tested' by the Mystics. Because of the awesome defence played by both sides in the goal circle, including Katrina Grant and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit for the Pulse, I cannot say I agree with this view.

Bidwell cited Joline Henry as not feeling the pressure of "the whole thing" for the match duration. Perhaps this was because there was ball squandered on the mid-court by both sides. It remained a pressure situation, but perhaps it is pressure that brings on 'brain fades'. All players on court were susceptible to this, with even the most experienced taking optimistic punts that didn't come off. However, the Pulse's Liana Leota played a sparkling game apart from the odd error.

There was a lot of physicality on court and some of it unnecessary. Perhaps it was a measure of the frustration felt by the Mystics, when a couple of young players seemed to focus inordinately on contacts including involvement of the face and head of the opposition. Penalties inevitably followed. They need to concentrate on better co-ordination and dexterity.

Cathrine Latu was introduced to goal shoot in the second half, and for a short time the Mystics improved. That was until Grant and Selby-Rickit got her measure, along with a whole-team defensive effort in the centre court. You could see the Pulse were making the passage of ball down court really difficult for the Mystics. Perhaps it has become second nature for the Pulse to impose stranglehold defence. As an audience member it was a pressure-filled and thrilling game particularly in and around the circle, but also on the occasion when a rock-solid defence effort by the Mystics was overcome through 'bolts' straight through to waiting shooters. Mystics' shooters Bailey Mes in the first half and Latu in the second were also ready to receive such bolts until Pulse defence tightened up. Kayla Cullen and Grace Rasmussen had some talented passages of play. Tutaia's capability to score goals from distance is a real strength, but her team failed to gel.

So Pulse you did well. You can do better yet, but last night was very promising indeed. Taking the lead at every quarter is an excellent way of asserting your determination. Cherish the ball, and defend to the hilt as you did last night! Thanks for the great game.

The unsung heroes who didn't play - Paula Griffin, Amber Bellringer, Victoria Smith, Claire Kersten and Daya Wiiffen - also seemed match-fit if prior-match  practices were anything to go by. Griffin's goaling accuracy pre-match was impressive.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Pulse - and Mystics - starving themselves by reducing goal attempts

The Pulse were defeated soundly in last night's game, scoring 30 goals to the Vixens' 52. Their particular Achilles heel was the very low proportion of attempts at goal (40 to the Vixens' 68), and Pulse shooters' reluctance to have a go. There were a few warning signs from the week before when Caitlin Thwaites who played a great game then, nevertheless dithered on the shot a couple of times. But it wasn't just Thwaites; I think Donna Wilkins managed to get only one goal in the third quarter. Vixens' defenders Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor reduced the flow of ball into the very tight circle. In the end it was Thwaites who was benched rather than Wilkins, but by then there were only about nine minutes to go.

Paula Griffin came on at that point, and managed to shoot four from six attempts at 66%. Griffin was unable to take her first shot; a commentator blaming this on a foot over the line, while I thought "Step" was uttered. Either way, Griffin came on impressively in a game already lost, seemingly coping competently with the tight Vixens' marking. According to Hamish Bidwell from Stuff, coach Robyn Broughton is reluctant to use players from her bench unless things get really desperate. If this is the case, it's a bit hard perhaps not just on the bench, but on those players who need time off to regain composure, and for the suffering scoreline.  The ANZ competition also provides players with a chance to improve and show off their developing skills. Victoria Smith and Daya Wiffen have produced some great defensive play recently in their own right. When the attack failed to fire beyond seven shots a quarter, surely replacing either of the shooting duo would have reignited things at half-time. Donna Wilkins seemed to stress out at some umpiring decisions. Griffin is a former Silver Fern who has never been utilised as much as she should be. At her best she is very good. 

Pulse captain Katrina Grant in particular, along with Te Huinga Selby-Rickit had a tremendous defensive game despite stiff opposition from Tegan Caldwell, Karen Howarth (during the first half) and then Sharelle McMahon. If not for Grant and Selby-Rickit, the score would have ballooned. Liana Leota seemed to pick up more penalties than I thought she deserved, and it is the calls that bewilder that really underline morale. Leota is just such a fantastically versatile and athletic player. However, the game's over and the Vixens performed superbly. The umpiring at opposite ends seemed a bit uneven, and New Zealand clocks' three seconds don't seem to tally with Aussie ones. This is something all Kiwi teams need to watch out for.

Another timely warning would be when teams curb their chances at victory by minimising their goal attempts. This is something both Mystics and Pulse did yesterday. The Mystics' Cathrine Latu is accurate but is simply not putting up enough shots at goal. Last night's game between the Mystics and Canterbury Tactix won by the latter at 61-57 saw Latu going to a lot of effort to shoot from close in. It's a good thing it wasn't a trans-Tasman match, or the penalty count would probably have climbed even higher. At the other end, one can only say "WOW" to the impressive shooting duo of Joanne Harten and Sophia Fenwick. Anna Thompson and Jade Clarke in the centre court and Jane Watson on defence also performed slickly. The difference between the Tactix and the Mystics was that the Tactix worked fluidly as a team. While there are outstanding players in the Mystics, they didn't always seem to follow through on the calm advice given by their coach. However, it was good to see Kayla Cullen resuming a more overt defensive role. Elisapeta Toeava and Jess Moulds also played well, and Bailey Mes came on to shoot convincingly in the last part of the game.