The Auckland Huskies are gaining momentum and doing so seemingly with every minute that Izayah Mouriohooho Le’afa plays as the late-arriving point guard continues to find his feet in the Sal’s NBL Showdown.
The former Sacramento State guard was outstanding and had great help from another young gun in Taine Murray as both put up 19 points in leading the Huskies to an 88-81 win over the Canterbury Rams as the pre-season favourites start to finally flex their guns and live up to that tag. Perhaps most importantly, Le’afa got another heavy workload into his legs with 34 minutes of court time.
It wasn’t all the newbies though, with veteran forward Leon Henry stepping up with a massive double-double haul of 14 points and 17 rebounds as Kevin Braswell’s team continue to gel approaching the halfway mark of the six-week condensed competition.
The first quarter was a back and forth affair, with neither side able to break clear until the Rams edged away by six in the final minutes, thanks largely to the impact of young Tom Webley, his seven points off the bench showed his growing maturity in the Sal’s NBL.
The Huskies turned that deficit around with a massive second quarter though as they found their range from deep, leading 48-36 at the main break, taking advantage of Rams guard Taylor Britt playing just eight minutes in the first half.
The lead would soon extend as the Huskies offence continued unabated, reaching a game-high of 24 and the Rams looked cooked heading into the final quarter. Turns out they had only just started heating up, as the comeback gained momentum led by Britt as the Tall Black and Perth Wildcats point guard enjoyed more time on the court and found his range from deep, dropping 3/5 three-pointers.
With 2:51 to play, the margin was down to three points on the back of another Taylor Britt drive to the basket and Kevin Braswell called time out to calm his troops and settle a few jangling nerves. The Rams had their chances, with Talma missing a two and Britt another from long range before the Huskies shut the door in the final 60 seconds to pick up their third win, joining the Rams with a three and four record on the ladder.
For the Rams, Britt led in his typically robust way, driving through bigger bodies to reach the rim and hitting those treys to keep the defence guessing, ending with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists. Support came from the bench with Webley (15 points and six rebounds) and Ben Carlile-Smith (14 points and seven rebounds).
So, there was something for both teams to take away from this one, the Huskies liking the growing influence of Mauriohooho-Le’afa and Murray, and the Rams the fight in the comeback, albeit ultimately coming up short.
Final Score: Huskies 88 Rams 81
SkyCity MVP Votes:
Izayah Le'afa (Huskies-10), Taylor Britt (Rams-8), Taine Murray (Huskies-5), Leon Henry (Huskies-4), Alex Talma (Rams-2), Tom Webley (Rams-1).