Bruce Martin reports on the Under 23 National Basketball Championships in Porirua, Wellington.
Both the Waitaha Canterbury Men’s and Waikato Women’s teams successfully defended their Under 23 National Basketball Championship titles at Te Rauparaha Arena, Porirua on Saturday.
The Waikato Women, led by Tall Fern Charlisse Leger-Walker (26 points) defeated Waitaha Canterbury 75-52.
However, Waitaha Canterbury Men pulled away from Auckland in the second half, Sam Lees and Sam Smith combining for 51 points in a 99-80 victory.
Under 23 Men’s National Championship
Canterbury teams have fashioned a proud record at this tournament over the years with Dave Langrell being a long-term coach of the men’s teams.
The Waitaha Canterbury Men started strongly, comfortably accounting for Counties-Manukau in its opening game with seven players recording double figure scores, led by Sam Smith with 21PTS, 8REB and 5AST. In the second pool game Waitaha had to lift its game to come away 87-82 winners against Waitakere West. Players to feature were Joe Cook-Green 24PTS, 7REB, 5AST, Sam Lees 26PTS, 10REB and Toby Gillooly 16PTS.
Waitaha went directly to the Main Quarter-finals on Friday where they easily dispatched Waikato Country, 114-79 with formidable force. Sam Lees 26PTS, Josiah Williams 17PTS, Ben Bowie 16PTS, 9REB, Sam Smith 14PTS, 7REB, 7AST and Joe Cook-Green 15PTS, 5AST.
Waitaha had some anxious moments in the Semi-final against Taranaki before prevailing 85-80. Taranaki worked up to an early 19-point lead, but slowly and systematically Waitaha clawed its way back into the game. By half-time it had reduced Taranaki’s lead to nine points (42-33). Sam Lees stepped up to the occasion with a forceful 31PTS, 5AST performance, with valuable contributions from Toby Gillooly 12PTS, 15REB, Sam Smith 11PTS, Ben Bowie 11PTS, 8REB and Josiah Williams 10PTS, 6AST.
In the Grand finale, the pace slowed after a busy week of basketball. The first quarter was evenly matched, tied 26-26 but Waitaha slowly edged ahead 50-43 at the turnaround. Sam Smith stepped up to lead Waitaha with 26PTS, 13REB followed by Sam Lees 25PTS, 8REB, Ben Bowie 16PTS, 9REB. The third quarter only produced 18-12 points to put Waitaha ahead 68-55, but the game opened in the fourth quarter with Canterbury leading the scoring 31-25 and claiming the gold medal.
Both Sam Lees and Sam Smith were outstanding, but it was an all-round team performance from Waitaha Canterbury that led them to a 99-80 victory against Auckland.
Auckland guard, Thomas Whyte 21PTS, led all scorers with nine points in the first quarter. Conor Flanagan made eight straight points and Whyte with the triple to tie the scores with four minutes to play in the first half. A jump shot from Sam Smith (13 points in the half) and a transition bucket from Ben Van Noorden cancelled out Sam Colenutt two handed flush, seeing Canterbury 50-43 ahead at half-time.
Canterbury stretched their lead to 64-47 by the mid-point of the third quarter and although Auckland trimmed the deficit they still trailed 68-55. Lees with six points at the end of the third-quarter, helping Canterbury maintain the lead.
Lees helped himself to another seven points as Canterbury extended their advantage, a Smith triple making it 83-62. With six minutes to play and Auckland required a timeout.
Sam Whyte and Pafe Momoisea scored on the resumption, but despite a late flurry of points, Auckland could do little to stop Canterbury defending their championship crown. Toby Gillooly putting the exclamation mark on the victory with a breakaway dunk.
Men’s Pool A:
Waitaha Canterbury 102 Counties Manukau 68. (Sam Smith 21PT, 8REB, 5AST; Joe Cook-Green 12PTS, 12REB, 8AST; Ben Bowie 14PTS, 11REB; Sam Lees 12PTS; Ben Van Noorden 12PTS, 12REB; Matt Mischewski 12PTS; Petelo Leaupepe 12PTS) HT: 53-28.
Waitaha Canterbury 87 Waitakere West 82. (Joe Cook-Green 24PTS, 7REB, 5AST; Sam Lees 26PTS, 10REB; Toby Gillooly 16PTS) HT: Waitakere 59-57.
Men’s Quarter Final: Waitaha Canterbury 114 Waikato Country 79. (Sam Lees 26PTS; Josiah Williams 17PTS; Ben Bowie 16PTS, 9REB; Sam Smith 14PTS, 7REB, 7AST; Joe Cook-Green 15PTS, 5AST). HT: 61-33.
Men’s Semi Final: Waitaha Canterbury 85 Taranaki 80. (Sam Lees 31PTS, 5AST; Toby Gillooly 12PTS, 15REB; Sam Smith 11PTS; Ben Bowie 11PTS, 8REB; Josiah Williams 10PTS, 6AST) (Taranaki -Dane Brooks 21PTS).
Men’s Grand Final: Waitaha Canterbury 99 Auckland 80. (Sam Smith 26PTS, 13REB; Sam Lees 25PTS, 8REB; Ben Bowie 16PTS, 9REB). (Auckland – Thomas Whyte 21PTS; Sam Colenutt 16PTS). HT: 50-43
U23 Men’s Tournament Team
Sam Lees (Waitaha Canterbury)
Samuel Smith (Waitaha Canterbury)
Conor Flanagan (Auckland)
Jaylen Gerrand (Harbour)
Dane Brooks (Taranaki)
Under 23 Women’s National Championship
The Waitaha Canterbury Women also put together an incredible team effort over the week.
In pool play, Canterbury took on Manawatu in an 89-65 victory, through the efforts of Wildcat Connie Poletti 17PTS, 14REB, 5AST, Tessa Boagni 17PTS, 4AST, Laken Wairau 13PTS, 4AST and Tessa Stewart-Morrison 10PTS. Later in the day Waitaha accounted for Taranaki 90-42 with seven players scoring in double figures, led by Tessa Boagni with 20PTS and 9REB.
In the last pool game on Thursday Waitaha came up against the defending champion Waikato and was crunched 85-54 with Tall Fern Charlisse Leger-Walker doing the damage with 23PTS, 9REB, 5AST. The Waikato defense also restricted the Canterbury scoring machine Tessa Boagni to 13PTS, 9REB and Ajiah Pepe with 11PTS.
In the Women’s Semi Final Waitaha Canterbury had to dig a lot deeper before accounting for Harbor 79-70. Tessa Boagni with a dominant performance (28PTS, 17REB, 4STL, 5BLK), followed by Connie Poletti (23PTS, 15REB, 4AST). While Waikato accounted for Waikato Country 88-47 in the other Semi Final.
Tall Fern internationals, Alyssa Hirawani, Charlisse Leger-Walker and Krystal Leger Walker were all impressive, as Waikato pulled away from Waitaha Canterbury in the second half to win the Grand final 75-52. Canterbury Wildcat forward Connie Poletti was outstanding with a double-double 23PTS, 23REB. However, it was a stat stuffing performance from Waikato’s Charlisse Leger-Walker that made the difference (26PTS, 8REB, 6AST, 5STL).
After Canterbury had opened an early five-point lead, Waikato reduced that advantage to 17-16 in the first quarter.
A couple of threes from Tessa Morrison and Laken Wairau gave Canterbury a 25-16 lead, but Kendall Heremaia and Charlisse Leger-Walker prompted a 15-0 run to give Waikato the lead back.
Tall Ferns Center, Tessa Boagni ended the run, but Waikato headed to the interval with a 35-31 advantage. Leger-Walker led all scorers at half-time with 13 points, with Poletti in double figures with ten points.
New Tall Fern, Alyssa Hirawani (18PTS) went back to back, after Boagni scored an inside basket as Waikato moved to a double-digit lead (49-39).
Poletti was playing something of a lone hand for Waitaha with her double-double (23PTS 23REB) but Waikato still held a 64-48 lead four minutes into the final period. Waitaha’s other scorers failed to reach double figures, with pressure coming from the Waikato defense.
Krystal Leger-Walker gave the defending champions a 67-48 lead, with Heremaia and Hirawani adding to Canterbury’s woes Waikato eased to a convincing win.
Waikato Head Coach Anthony Corbin said the game plan was to wear down the Canterbury guards. “We knew we didn’t have the size to compete with Tessa (Boagni) and Connie (Poletti). We had to focus on their guards and I thought we achieved that in the final ten minutes.”
Images courtesy Basketball NZ. Article written by Bruce Martin and edited by Joeman Chan