Captain knows side can rise to occasion

Otago Gold Rush captain Natalie Smith takes a break in her physio room to talk basketball...
Otago Gold Rush captain Natalie Smith takes a break in her physio room to talk basketball yesterday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Natalie Smith knows a tough match-up awaits.

But the Otago Gold Rush captain also knows her team is capable of rising to the occasion.

It hosts the unbeaten Auckland Dream at the Edgar Centre tonight, as it heads down the stretch of its Women's Basketball Championship season.

In the season opener, the Dream downed the Gold Rush 63-25.

It was part of a tough start for the Gold Rush.

But two wins last week got it back on track, Smith playing a starring role with 15 points and 11 rebounds against Waikato.

"I think I changed my focus a little bit," the 29-year-old forward said.

"Not worrying about the score and trusting the girls to do their jobs as well.

"Just focusing on rebounding and it turned out quite well.

"It was fun. It's fun when you win."

Since its opening tournament, the side has taken a different look.

A handful of players have returned from overseas and injury.

Smith felt while the side had improved, it was also doing what it had always been capable of.

"I think we're trusting the offences a little bit more and trusting [new coach Greg Brockbank] more and trusting each other.

"I think we've always had the potential to win those games, but I think we've improved a lot in terms of our execution."

That trust and confidence in themselves would be key tonight.

While Auckland is without Kalani Purcell, it will have the rest of its Tall Fern-laden roster.

For Smith it was a case of the team not being intimidated by that Tall Fern tag.

The Gold Rush had beaten teams like that in the past - including in 2015, when it beat a similar Auckland team in the final.

Likewise, Smith feels there are Otago players who perhaps deserved recognition than they get.

"I believe in our girls. They match up just as well against these Tall Ferns.

"They might not have the recognition for it at a national level, but I think that's the awesome thing about us as well.

"We might not be a team full of superstars, but we mostly work well together and when we do it pays off."

The Gold Rush is tied with Waikato in fourth with three games remaining.

However, with Waikato still to play Taranaki again, the Gold Rush probably needs a win from its last three games.

All are at home and Smith is confident the team is capable of making the top four.

Beyond that she is unsure.

Another season in a Gold Rush uniform would probably take her to 100 WBC games.

However, she is not looking past this year, although she will definitely remain in Dunedin and continue working as a physio.

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