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.