The Wellington Saints have completed the perfect warm-up for next week's season-deciders, firstly with an emphatic win over the EnviroNZ Franklin Bulls followed by a clinical, yet tougher, 85-61 victory over the Sky Tower Auckland Huskies.
Given that both teams are set to meet next Thursday night in a Semi Final at the Sal's NBL Final 4, it was a bit of a mystery as to how they would treat the clash and whether or not they would show too much with a bigger strategic battle to come.
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Played in front of one of their biggest home crowds of the season, the Huskies looked upbeat and ready to show the Saints what's in store for them in the near future, the vocal home audience turning out in force.
The Saints got out to their customary hot start, draining a couple of triples just to remind the Huskies that just 24 hours earlier they had set a team record, and possibly a League record, with a staggering 29 triples.
Taane Samuel, Kerwin Roach and Dion Prewster all looked lively early, before the Huskies fought back well through Justin Bibbs who hit 10 first-quarter points.
Leading 27-17 heading into the second period, the game tightened up as both teams went into lock-down mode. The Huskies won the term 21-17 as Tom Vodanovich started to make his presence felt, finishing the half with 14 points and 7 rebounds.
Up 44-38 heading into the third period the Saints looked to Dion Prewster to get things rolling, which as he has so many times this season, he did just that.
Bibbs sent a shockwave through the Huskies camp late in the quarter when he had to leave the court after jamming a finger, but it was all smiles when he re-entered the play just a minute later. Though the Huskies were hanging in the contest, it always felt like the Saints were capable of going to a higher gear.
Leading 63-49 at the last change, that next gear soon came as the Saints closed the contest out in style with a 22-12 final quarter. It was enough to not only get the win, but also to show the Huskies they will need to do better come Thursday night if they hope to progress any further.
One of the key match-ups was the Dion Prewster and Zach Riley duel,which firmly went the way of the Saints skipper with a game-high 23 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
The upside for the Huskies was that Riley (2pts) and Brooke Ruscoe (3pts) were well held and would expect more next time, while Dontae Russo-Nance missed the clash due to playing at the U17 Nationals.
In the end, a 24-point win to the Saints and clear favouritism come Semi-Final 1 on Thursday night in Porirua.
Auckland Huskies (61) lost to Wellington Saints (85) - BOXSCORE
HUSKIES: Justin Bibbs (18pts, 9rbs), Tom Vodanovich (17pts, 10rbs), Taki Fahrensohn (10pts).
SAINTS: Dion Prewster (23pts, 9rbs, 8ast), Taane Samuel (20pts).
Stuff MVP Votes
Dion Prewster (Saints) 8
Tom Vodanovich (Huskies) 7
Justin Bibbs (Huskies) 6
Taane Samuel (Saints) 6
Kerwin Roach (Saints) 2
Zach Riley (Huskies) 1
(Photo Credit: PhotosportNZ)