Game fightback from Gold Rush falls just short

Otago Gold Rush guard Aleisha Ruske dribbles past Quaye Walker-Eketone of the Waikato Wizards...
Otago Gold Rush guard Aleisha Ruske dribbles past Quaye Walker-Eketone of the Waikato Wizards during their match at the Edgar Centre yesterday. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
A spirited fightback was not quite enough, although it made for a thrilling finish.

The Otago Gold Rush fell short as the Waikato Wizards emerged a 53-48 victor in yesterday's Women's Basketball Championship grand final rematch at the Edgar Centre.

A Krystal Leger-Walker (17 points) three-pointer left the Gold Rush facing a 50-35 deficit early in the fourth quarter.

However, a switch from man-to-man defence to a 1-2-2 zone stifled the Waikato offence.

It scored just three points in the final nine minutes, while the Gold Rush pulled in some big rebounds after struggling all game.

At the other end, Nicole Ruske (19 points) took the initiative.

She piled in 11 consecutive points in the fourth quarter as the Gold Rush offence gained aggression and confidence.

Two from deep cut the deficit to single-digits, before a mid-range shot made it 50-44.

An offensive rebound allowed the Wizards to finally hit back, stretching the lead just beyond the Gold Rush's reach.

It was a strong fightback, particularly given nine days ago the team was held scoreless in a quarter by Auckland.

That pleased coach Greg Brockbank, whose focus continues to be for the team to get better each week.

"We had small runs last week in the second half when the game got away from us," he said.

"But today we fought for it and we really put the acid back on.

"The girls did a great job and that's the message in the locker room right now. That fightback is what we needed."

He said it had been a big improvement from last weekend's opening tournament, although the game was "a bit frustrating".

Rebounding had been the major issue.

Bigs Natalie Smith and Natalie Visger battled well to come up with 11 and 13 rebounds respectively.

However, as a team Waikato crashed the boards aggressively and generated 20 offensive rebounds.

Brockbank agreed that was a big factor and said the way it jammed also made it tough for Otago to get clean outlets to attack in transition.

Early on, the scoring difficulties from last weekend were evident.

The Gold Rush struggled to create good looks and trailed 16-6 at the first break.

It came out more aggressive in the second quarter and both Ruske and Bronwyn Kjestrup scored off drives to the hoop.

Ella Bradley (12 points) responded with a lay-up, before back-to-back three-pointers to Leger-Walker and Quaye Walker-Eketone forced the Gold Rush into a timeout at 24-10.

The Gold Rush finished the quarter well and a banked three on the buzzer from Georgia Te Au cut the halftime deficit back to single digits at 28-20.

Waikato did its damage early in the third quarte, as Bradley led it on a 12-2 run to open an 18-point gap.

The Gold Rush rallied to pull that back in the final quarter, although it had left itself too much to do.

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