After four days of action at Auckland’s Eventfinda Stadium, the 2023 Women’s D League and Men’s U23 National Champions have been crowned – with both the Auckland Dream and Taranaki teams claiming back-to-back titles.
Dream beat Harbour Breeze 88-73 to win the D League title, while Taranaki defeated Porirua 110-101 to claim the U23 Men’s championship.
D League Final: Auckland Dream 88, Harbour Breeze 73
Auckland Dream won the City of Sails derby 88-73, and in so doing defended the D League title they won in 2022.
The Dream held off a fourth quarter Breeze revival; their North Shore rivals reducing a 14-point three quarter time deficit to four points, before the standout duo of Casyn Buchman and Tournament MVP Trinity Paeu closed out the contest.
American guard Buchman made 5 from 11 three-point attempts on her way to a game-high 30 points, while Paeu was a force inside – adding 10 rebounds to her 23 points. The Dream backcourt duo of Savannah Cook and Summer Jean Motufoua chipped in with 15 and 9 respectively.
New Zealand U16 international Bailey Flavell had 26 points and 4 steals for the Breeze, while Elianna Tuaiti and Riana Rangi-Brown scored a dozen apiece and skipper Milomilo Nanai had 9 points and 9 rebounds.
A pair of deep threes from Cook helped Dream to an early 16-5 lead. Replies came from Flavell and Tuaiti, although a triple from Buchman and a mid-range two from Coola Baudry helped to give Dream a 25-15 quarter-time lead.
Cook landed her third three and Motofua her first – the Dream leading 33-19. Flavell kept the score rolling for Breeze, although Buchman was doing likewise for Dream with their lead 39-27. Amy Pateman reduced the Breeze deficit to single figures; Paeu soon adjusting that with back to back inside scores. Thirteen points apiece from Cook and Buchman had Dream 52-36 ahead at half-time.
Nanai opened the second half scoring, before Buchman made it four from six from three point territory. Flavell took her score into the twenties, Buchman followed soon after, Dream with a 71-57 lead with ten minutes to play.
Rangi-Brown made the first score of the final period and when she and Tuaiti made successive scores, the Breeze deficit was down to eight points with seven minutes to play.
Rebecca Moors made it a four-point but Buchman’s quality shot making eased the lead back to nine – and when Paeu nailed an elbow two the nerves on the Dream bench were eased.
Buchman made her fifth three of the night and the Dream’s repeat was made a reality.
U23 Men’s Final: Taranaki 110 Porirua 101
Taranaki went back-to-back in this tournament, thanks to outstanding performances from centre KC Nwafor and playmaker Caleb Smiler. Nwafor constructed a double-double of 32 points and 14 rebounds, with Smiler scoring 23 points on 8 from 14 shooting. The pair enjoyed considerable support from Morgan Trott (19 points and 8 rebounds), Benji Freeman (14 points) and Tom Poulgrain (12 points).
Kawharu Hippolite was exceptional in a losing cause, the Porirua guard amassing 29 points on 14 from 17 (82%) from the field. Also in double figures for Porirua were Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape (17 points), Nathaniel Salmon (16 points), Aston Inwood (14 points) and Kazlo Evans (12 points).
Six points from Poulgrain helped Taranaki to a 14-6 lead, before Porirua hit back with a 10-0 run to force a Taranaki timeout – Hippolite already with 9 points. Inwood made it a 15-point run before Trott hit back for Taranaki as they narrowed the deficit to 25-23 at quarter time.
Hippolite moved into double figures, and with Evans making his third triple the Porirua lead was 34-27. Nwafor and Smiler made back-to-back three-point plays to take Taranaki into a two-point lead midway through the second frame.
Forty-three points apiece with three minutes to play in the half, and Inwood converted a brace of shots followed by an inside play from Hippolite – but Nwafor made his presence felt in the paint to level the scores (50-50) at half-time. Hippolite led all scorers at the break with 19 points.
The two teams went basket for basket in a fast-paced third quarter; Nwafor converting an alley-oop gave Taranaki a 73-67 lead, then Freeman’s three was cancelled out by Leusogi-Ape’s and Salmon’s respective efforts from deep. Freeman hit the four foul mark, Hippolite the 27-point score and Nwafor double-double territory, as Taranaki took the slimmest of leads (86-85) into the three-quarter break.
The fourth quarter began with Nwafor making a remarkable shot from behind the backboard that somehow found the net – Taranaki ahead 95-89. Nwafor made it a ten-point advantage with six minutes to play, the big man dominating the paint throughout. Meanwhile Kydan Parata was punching above his weight inside, his score reducing the deficit to 8 points with four minutes to play.
Nwafor’s baseline jumper kept the advantage at ten points with two minutes to play – Inwood reduced it to eight, but time was the enemy of Porirua with just 90 seconds to play. Porirua had a couple of good looks they couldn’t make, and fittingly the Tournament MVP KC Nwafor grabbed his 14th rebound of the contest to close the game.
D League Tournament Team
Arna Bright – Taranaki
Briarley Rogers – TCBA Coasters
Kelani Albert-Neha – Waikato Wizards
Abby Harris – Otago Gold Rush
Riva Walker-Pitman – Waikato Wizards
Casyn Buchman – Auckland Dream
Savannah Cook – Auckland Dream
Bailey Flavell – Harbour Breeze
Riana Rangi – Harbour Breeze
Trinity Paeu – Auckland Dream
D League Most Valuable Player
Trinity Paeu – Auckland Dream
U23 Men Tournament Team
Mitchell Hughan – Otago
Josh Leger – Auckland
Zach Riley – Harbour
Jett Thompson – Harbour
Morgan Trott – Taranaki
Nathaniel Salmon – Porirua
Benji Freeman – Taranaki
Dru-Leo Leusogi-Ape – Porirua
KC Nwafor – Taranaki
U23 Men Most Valuable Player
KC Nwafor – Taranaki