TAURANGA, NEW ZEALAND - The Apunipima Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars have won their fourth consecutive Trans-Tasman campaign, defeating the New Zealand Maori National Team two-games-to-one, in the best-of-three annual series played across Aotearoa’s North Island.
A last-second lay-up by big-man Chris Patton secured a thrilling 82-81 opening game victory for the All Stars in Te Awamutu.
The visitors backed up the next night with another clutch performance, this time the hero was rising star William Hickey, who made a basket as time expired to hand the All Stars an 89-88 triumph in Tauranga.
The Maori representative team regrouped for game three, avoiding a clean sweep by prevailing 104-77.
Dynamic shooting guard Deba George stood tall once again for the All Stars. The 32-year old Torres Strait Islander native dropped 22-points in the opening contest before compiling 24 in game two.
Team captain Chris Cedar also exhibited his class. The former Townsville Crocodiles NBL point guard posted an efficient 16-point outing in Te Awamutu to keep his side in the contest.
First-time All Star Chris Patton was dominant in the paint throughout the series. The 208cm center finished with 19-points and 7-rebounds in game one, before tallying 23-points and 8-rebounds in the second bout.
Apunipima Australian Indigenous Basketball All Stars Head Coach Joel Khalu was thrilled with his sides’ retention of the Trans-Tasman trophy.
“We definitely faced some adversity and to the players credit, they battled away, making the big-plays when we needed them,” Khalu said.
“To take the series on two, back-to-back buzzer beaters was heartbreaking for the Maori, but a great sign of our teams’ ability to execute in pivotal moments.”
“We just found a way to win and that’s a habit our squad has developed over the past four-years.”
Khalu also praised the contributions of those players injected off the bench.
“The subs we had coming in filled their roles perfectly. They each brought the energy and enthusiasm we needed and were critical to our overall success.”
Melbourne-based swingman Dion Patten was one player in particular coach Khalu commended.
“I though Dion was terrific. He was our sparkplug. He had to match-up with players a lot bigger than him in that small forward position, but the way he competed, particularly on the glass, was truly remarkable.”
With the Trans-Tasman cup staying in Australia for another 12-months, the All Stars will shift their focus to the 2019 World Indigenous Basketball Championships that will take place in New Zealand next March.