March Madness: Gold, Cameron Ignite

Ahead of the announcement of the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I Tournament draw, we have a roundup of all the weekend’s college action involving Kiwi athletes.

Following on from the successes in the Women’s NCAA Division, we can also celebrate that the Men’s Division I National Championship will almost certainly feature Ben Gold and Taine Murray.

Gold and the sixth-ranked team in the nation, Marquette, have been assured of a National Tournament berth after defeating Xavier 65-51 to secure its first ever Big East Tournament title. Meanwhile, fellow Tall Black Murray and #13 Virginia are a lock for an invite – but came up short against Duke University in the Atlantic Coast Conference final (see below).

Also locking spots in a National Championship are Finn Lally and Oliver Hayward. Both are headed to the Men’s NJCAA (Junior College) National Champs while Hannah Wentworth and Ella Bradley are playing for quarter-final berths at the Women’s NCAA Division II championships.


Other Men’s NCAA Division I News

Taine Murray made both of his shots for 5 points as Virginia defeated #3 Clemson 76-56 in the Atlantic Coast Conference semi-final. However, Virginia were defeated 59-49 by Duke in the championship game.

There was double disappointment in the semi-finals of the Big West Conference Tournament, where the Kiwis involved both suffered narrow defeats.

Flynn Cameron put in a herculean effort for University California Riverside in their 92-87 loss to UC Santa Barbara. The Tall Blacks guard produced a career-best 31 points along with 4 rebounds and 6 assists. He made all 12 of his free throw attempts, 5 from 8 three-point shots and 7 from 13 overall.

In the other Big West semi-final, Akiva McBirney-Griffin and UC Irvine, the top ranked team at the Championship, were beaten 83-80 by California State Fullerton.

Another semi-final loss saw Zach Riley and Fordham were defeated from the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament by Dayton 78-68.

In the Atlantic 10 Tournament quarter-finals, top seed Virginia Commonwealth were too good for Davidson winning 71-53. Sam Mennenga had 8 rebounds and 9 points in the loss, finishing the season as Davidson’s second highest scorer with 486 points at 15.2ppg. Starting all 32 games, he was also the leading rebounder for the Wildcats with 6.7rpg.

Also going out to a top seed was another former Harbour and Westlake Boys forward. James Moors had 4 points, 5 rebounds and a couple of steals as Colorado State Rams went out to #1 San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference. The Rams gave it their best shot, only going down by three points, 64-61 against the #17 ranked team in Men’s Division I college basketball. Moors tallied 199 points for the season and now has 490 career points in 92 appearances.

It remains to be seen whether any of the above mentioned teams get the nod from the selection committee to fill the at large berths on offer at the Division I championships.


NCAA Division I Women

The Division I Women’s Tournament will definitely include conference champions Washington State University (Charlisse Leger-Walker) and University of Portland (Emme Shearer, Melika Samia and Florence Dallow). Waiting anxiously to receive invitations at large will be the likes of Colorado (Charlotte Whittaker) and Wofford College (Helen Matthews).


Grace Hunter and California State University Bakersfield created a major upset in the quarter finals of the Big West Championships, taking down top seed UC Irvine 61-59 in double overtime. Bakersfield – with a 3-17 record – were seeded #9, while Irvine (16-2) were the regular season champions.

Despite 12 points from Hunter on 6 from 10 shooting, Bakersfield lost their semi-final match-up with UC Santa Barbara 75-66. It was a productive season for the Wellingtonian guard who played for Tokomanawa Queens in Tauihi ’22, as she tallied 209 points in 28 appearances for the Roadrunners.

Tara Manumaleuga scored 8 points as #10 Texas Christian University (TCU) opened Big 12 Conference Tournament play with a 57-52 win against #7 Kansas. The former Junior Tall Fern added 3 rebounds and a couple of assists.

TCU came agonisingly close to upsetting #2 Oklahoma in the quarter-finals, only to be edged  77-76. Manumaleuga scored 15 points in the loss as well as dishing a season-best 7 assists.


NCAA Division II Women

Ella Bradley and Hannah Wentworth are the two Kiwis flying the New Zealand flag at the NCAA Division II Women’s National Championship, and both are headed to the Sweet Sixteen of the championships.

Wentworth scored a team-high 23 points as Eckerd College Tritons advanced to the last sixteen of the Championships for the first time in programme history. The former Harbour guard nailed 5 from 10 threes and all 4 free throws, as the Tritons pulled away in the fourth quarter to beat Union University 64-57. It’s also a first time to the Sweet Sixteen for Bradley and the University of Texas at Tyler Patriots

Bradley, a multiple championship winner with Waikato and St Peter’s School Cambridge is a glue player for Patriots, just as she was for the championship winning teams in New Zealand. In the 71-61 win against Angelo State, she had zero points (from three shots) but played a team high 38 minutes and had 4 rebounds, an assist and steal.


NCAA Division II Men

Josh Lowe, the sole Kiwi representative at the Men’s NCAA Division II Championship, and is hLee University Flames fell 74-61 to West Georgia in the opening round. The Ashburton native started in 16 of 25 games for the Flames.


Junior College Women

Junior College National Championships are not far away, but our Kiwis in top ranked teams will be hoping for an invitation from the selection committee after bowing out at the sharp end of regional tournaments.

Collin College (Waiata Jennings) are ranked #7, Dodge City (Leah Mafua and Jenna Rose Mafua) #10 and Eastern Arizona (Alana Paewai) are #14.


In Regional Tournament play over the weekend:

Rotorua’s Jennings, the leading scorer at Collin College this season, scored 13 points as the Cougars were edged 65-62 by New Mexico in the Region 5 semi-finals. It was just the second loss of the season for the North Texas Athletic Conference champions.

The Mafua sisters were major contributors as #10 ranked Dodge City College reached the semi-finals of the Region 6 Tournament with a 67-63 win against Independence. Leah added 8 rebounds to her 17 points and Jenna Rose scored 10 points.

Unfortunately Dodge City also bowed out in the semis, defeated 75-65 in overtime by Coffeyville. Leah had a stunning stats line of 18 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 6 steals and a block

Also losing in overtime – double OT to be precise – were Paewai and Eastern Arizona as they went down 91-83 to Cochise at the Region I Championship. There were a couple of points and rebounds in the contest for the former Waikato representative.


Junior College Men

Finn Lally scored 15 points as Trinidad State Trojans beat Northwest College 87-63 in the semi-finals of the Region 9 Tournament. The former Waikato representative shot an impressive 5-6 from the field, including 2-3 three-pointers while also pulling down 5 rebounds. It was a lot tighter in the Grand Final as the Trojans had to hold off Casper College, eventually winning 78-77. Lally had 5 points, 3 offensive rebounds and a pair of steals in the championship win.

Midland College were crowned Region 5 champions after a 68-55 win against Ranger College and are headed to the Men’s National Championship. Oliver Hayward is a member of the Midland squad although the former Northcote College swingman is redshirting the 2022-23 season as he recovers from injury.