The Under 23 Men's and Women's 2016 Under 23 National Championships in Tauranga on Saturday featured North v South Grand Final encounters. Both games went the way of the North Island teams.
North Harbour defeated 2015 champions Canterbury to take out the 2016 Under 23 Men's title and Waikato defeated Otago to win the Women's championship
Men's Under 23 National Championship Final
Fuelled by 20 points performances from Liam Thornton and Ana Haku North Harbour were able to defeat Canterbury in the Men’s Final at the 2016 Under 23 National Championships in Tauranga on Saturday.
James Cawthorn opened the scoring for Canterbury but Liam Thornton and Ana Haku drives gave Harbour an early 13-10 lead. A brace of Jordy Jamieson threes were matched by Nathan Campbell but Harbour led 25-17 at quarter-time.
Nathan Curran and Nick Brophy took Harbour into a double figure lead but Canterbury responded through Taylor Britt, sensational in the semi-final against Waikato, and James Levings.
Sam Smith scored in transition and Derek Albertsen landed a corner three to cancel out an identical effort from Thornton.
A fast paced opening half ended with Harbour ahead 45-35, Smith leading all scorers with 15 points.
A brace of Britt jump shots were followed by a couple of Thornton drives as the Harbour lead remained at 10 points. A Thornton put back dunk increased the Harbour advantage although back to back Nathan Campbell baskets excited the sizeable Canterbury supporters club.
Albertsen made a banked jumper but Harbour led 68-55 at the three-quarter mark.
Albertsen then made 9 straight points to open the final quarter proceedings before Haku scored twice for Harbour.
Impressive Junior Tall Black triallist Thornton was sent hobbling to the sideline with an ankle injury but Brophy helped the Harbour effort with a triple, 75-66, with 5:30 to play.
Daniel Mulder countered a Brophy transition basket as Harbour maintained a ten point lead with 3:30 to play and a Haku drive made it 81-69.
Free throws from Smith reduced the advantage to 8 points but the influential Matt Lacey landed a trey that took Harbour to 84-73 with less than two to play.
Levings made it 84-75 but a foul sent Haku to the foul line on consecutive offenses.
Taylor made a basket but with time running out Canterbury were forced to foul and Tournament MVP Haku completed the victory with a series of free throws.
Harbour coach Mitch Richmond stepped in at short notice for original coach Tony Webster (unavailable due to work commitments) and he was delighted with his team’s performance.
“It was a complete team effort from our veterans Jamieson, Lacey and Haku, who were hugely influential, through to our younger players like Nathan Curran and Liam Thornton,” said the Harbour coach.
Richmond won the U23 title as a player in 2013 but he found coaching to be a lot more intense. “It is definitely more pressure but I felt with the experience I have gained as a player and coach and the back up of Jaylen (assistant coach Jaylen Gerrand) and the senior players held me in good stead,” he said.
Final Score: Harbour 93 – Thornton 21, Haku 20, Jamieson 12, Brophy 11 Canterbury 81 – Smith 21, Albertsen 16, Britt 15, Campbell 11.
Hutt Valley defeated Waikato 82-67 in the 3rd/4th play-off game.
Referees – Leon Demetriades (Canterbury), Oceen Reed (North Harbour), Sam Pan (Wellington)
Women's Under 23 National Championship Final
Dominating performances from Kelcy Ballantyne and, both forwards recording double doubles, carried Waikato to a 64-50 victory over Otago in the Women’s final.
Threes on consecutive offences from Brittany Richards and Aleisha Ruske gave Otago an early 6 points advantage.
A Chelsea Savage triple plus a Heremaia reverse layup cut into the advantage but Otago led 14-12 at quarter time.
Eight points from Stirling Walker-Pitman and a brace of put backs from Ballantyne propelled Waikato to a 24-20 lead – Otago coach Natalie Visger deciding a timeout was prudent.
Richards made a deep two on the resumption but Walker-Pitman sunk her second triple of the game to keep Waikato ahead. Jeanie Pattison penetrated for a basket and Nicole Ruske made a triple as a free flowing half ended with Waikato 31-29 to the good.
The hard working Heremaia began to exert domination on the boards at both ends taking her rebound tally into double figures. Her efforts set up Ballantyne for an easy basket to take Waikato to a double digit lead.
Ballantyne made it three straight baskets to extend the lead to 45-33 and when Heremaia demonstrated her all round ability with a three Waikato were in total control.
Pattison broke an 8-0 Waikato run with a trey but the Heremaia /Ballantyne combination worked again as Waikato led 54-39 at the conclusion of the third period.
Otago needed early points in the final quarter and Aleisha Ruske obliged with a three but points were becoming hard to come by for the Blue and Gold’s. Krystal Leger-Walker, departing for the University of Northern Colorado on Monday, showed her class with a basket, block and assist on consecutive plays to extend the Waikato lead to 60-41 with 4:37 to play.
Otago never gave up trying, despite being without injured forward Zoe Richards, and Nicole Ruske and Brittany Richards made long shots count but the strong Waikato perimeter defence limited Otago’s opportunities and played a major part in carrying them to a deserved victory.
Waikato coach Anthony Corban was pleased with his team’s defensive effort.
“It’s the focal point of our rep programme and you saw today that we really just wore them down. It took us three-quarters of the game but eventually we just ran them off the court.”
Corban also complimented the performance of his captain Krystal Leger-Walker who claimed her fourth national title in the past 18 months.
“I have always thought she was Tall Ferns material from the first time I saw her play. Today it wasn’t so much the scoring it was the assists, the defensive rebounds and we know Northern Colorado are getting a very good player,” he said.
Leger-Walker modestly pointed out that Kendell Heremaia was a huge influence in the game.
“She was awesome, she always comes out to play, she is a beast, you can’t stop her. We’ve played together for the last two years and we work well together. She knows where I will be and I know exactly where she will be – she’s just so nice to play with and she was probably the difference that got us over the line today.”
Final Score: Otago 50 - Nicole Ruske 20, Richards 11, Aleisha Ruske 8, Pattison 9 Waikato 64 – Ballantyne 17/10, Heremaia 12/15, Walker-Pitman 10, Leger-Walker 8/14
In the Women’s 3rd/4th play-off game North Harbour defeated Tauranga City 91-55.
Referees – Apai Apai (Hawkes Bay), Rhys Hamilton (Auckland), Tayla Ammunson (Auckland)