The SKYCITY Mystics have made a break from the pack in the New Zealand Conference stakes with a torrid 47-45 victory over Mojo Pulse in Wellington, and given an injection of confidence to one of their perennial stars.
In her 100th ANZ Championship appearance, Mystics’ long-time shooter Cathrine Latu came off the bench in the third quarter, and rounded out the victory with a 100 percent shooting performance.
The Mystics are now three points clear of Kia Magic at the top of the Kiwi table.
The Mystics, who edged out the Pulse in the final quarter of their last encounter three rounds ago, this time began with the old shooting combination of Maria Tutaia and Paula Griffin – and initially, they struggled to make an impact.
Pulse wing defence Joline Henry set to disrupting the Mystics’ attack early, part of an overall defensive shut-out by the Pulse.
In the goal circle, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit forced Griffin to go out hunting for the ball, and she dominated at rebound time.
The Pulse were outscoring the Mystics two-to-one halfway through the spell, leading 10-5. But Tutaia kept her side in the mix, dropping shots from all lengths and angles, fed superbly by Millie Lees.
But it couldn’t compare to the accuracy of Pulse goal attack Jodi Brown, who never missed one of her 10 shots, ably supplied with quality ball by Elias Shadrock and Liana Leota.
Trailing 14-9 at the first break, the Mystics came out with a new purpose and scored the first four goals to slice the difference down to one.
Kayla Cullen showed her continuing comeback from injury by sticking like glue to Brown, and supporting Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick in her efforts to unsettle Irene van Dyk under the post.
With wing defence Serena Guthrie throwing herself at any wayward ball in the midcourt, and pressuring the Pulse into panic moves, the Mystics stole a three-goal lead.
But the Mystics then suffered a case of the handling hiccups allowing the Pulse to creep back into contention.
But it was short-lived, and the Mystics sustained their second-quarter turnaround to lead at halftime, 23-20.
After a “torrid” second period, Pulse coach Robyn Broughton urged her side to dig themselves out of the hole they’d fallen into.
Her captain Katrina Grant immediately set out to get her team back above ground level, with a breath-taking steal and a tip that seemed to ignite the Pulse again.
But again the Mystics pushed them back down – and even backwards in some cases. At 27-24, both sides brought on new shooters of international pedigree – Ameliaranne Wells for the Pulse; Latu for the Mystics.
Latu was quick to get her eye in and spark the old magic with Tutaia, ensuring the power remained in their hands, up 36-32 at three-quarter time.
Fully aware of the Pulse’s bounce-back ability, the Mystics gave themselves some fresh leaping legs in the form of goal keep Temalisi Fakahokotau.
A run of three goals helped the Mystics to open the gap to six with about as many minutes left, but Henry continuing as she began, rallying her troops in a spirited comeback reducing the gap to one.
But a bread-and-butter intercept by Cullen, converted by Tutaia, with less than two minutes to go was ultimately the clincher for the visiting team.
MVP: Maria Tutaia (SKYCITY Mystics)