Mystics upset Stars in top of the table clash

Stars goal shoot Maia Wilson and Mystics defender Kate Burley battle for the ball on Sunday. ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT

Talk about delivering a title statement.

The Northern Mystics held off a fast-finishing Stars side to triumph 63-60 in the ANZ Premiership’s top of the table all-Auckland duel at Trusts Arena on Sunday.

With starting midcourters Tayla Earle and Fa’amu Ioane both out, it was some performance from the Mystics, who bounced back from a sloppy home loss to the Steel last weekend.

If the Mystics can play like this over the final seven rounds of the season and clinch a finals spot, they are going to be a serious threat for the title.

The Stars will rue a poor start to the game, where they fell into a 34-27 halftime hole and left themselves playing catch-up for the third straight game.

In a titanic battle, deserving of a top of the table clash, the Stars produced a powerful finish, but left themselves with too much work to do.

Prolific Mystics’ goal shoot Grace Nweke was the difference between the teams, scoring a whopping 60 goals from 64 attempts, while also grabbing three rebounds.

The Stars gained a bonus point for losing within five to remain top of the table, but the Mystics have closed the gap to one, moving to 18 competition points.

They had three more attempts at goal for the game than the Mystics, but converted 60 from 70 (86 per cent) compared to the Mystics’ 94 per cent (63 from 67).

With seven rounds left, it will be a fierce fight for top three finals berths with the Tactix, Steel, and Pulse also right in contention.

The Mystics opened up an eight goal lead late in the third quarter, but a strong finish to the term from the Stars gave them hope heading into the final 15 minutes.

Amorangi Malesala added impact off the bench, alongside Silver Ferns goal shoot Maia Wilson, allowing the Stars to go into the final quarter trailing by four (47-43).

The final quarter was a pulsating affair with the Stars setting up a nailbiting finish after scoring three straight to cut the Mystics’ lead to 57-55.

They couldn’t nab a decisive turnover in the key final moments with the Mystics doing enough to hang on.

The Mystics headed to halftime with a 34-27 lead, causing problems for the top of the table Stars with their precision on attack.

Nweke landed 31 goals in the first half with Bailey Mes again serving as a dominant feeder, putting up just three goals.

The Stars had few answers stopping the ball getting into Nweke. Mes, wing attack Peta Toeava, who has such a connection with Nweke, and Claire O’Brien put the ball right where she wanted it close to the hoop, causing headaches for the Stars’ defenders.

At the other end, the Mystics did well containing the dangerous Wilson, putting pressure on goal attack Jamie Hume to shoot.

Veteran Anna Harrison switched from the defensive circle to wing defence to start the game, a move made to combat electric Mystics’ wing attack Toeava.

The Stars clearly wanted to use Harrison’s height and long limbs to contain the speedy Toeava, who stands just 1.61m, but is an excellent feeder into Nweke.

It only lasted 30 minutes with the Stars moving Harrison back to goal defence to begin the second half with the Mystics holding a seven goal lead.

This match had the makings of a high-scoring one and that’s exactly how it played out in the first quarter. Both sides were able to send the ball into their shooting ends with regularity as the goals racked up.

A 3-0 burst to end the first quarter saw the Mystics take a 17-13 lead into the first break with Nweke netting 16 from 16 to start the game.

Early in the second quarter, the Mystics’ advantage ballooned to six goals (23-17) with the Stars’ defence unable to stem the flow of ball into Nweke.

The Stars will aim to bounce back with a win against the Pulse next Sunday, who beat them two weeks ago. The Mystics travel south to face the Magic, on a seven game losing run, next Monday in Hamilton.

AT A GLANCE:

Mystics 63 (Grace Nweke: 60/64, Bailey Mes: 3/3) Stars 60 (Maia Wilson: 34/38, Jamie Hume: 10/15, Amorangi Malesala: 16/17) 1Q: 17-13, HT: 34-27, 3Q: 47-43.

Stuff MVP points: Grace Nweke 3, Peta Toeava 2, Sulu Fitzpatrick 1.

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