Wellington Saints V Auckland Huskies - Semi-final Preview
The New Zealand NBL regular season is now completed, and the Wellington Saints know their opponent for the one versus four match-up for the finals weekend in Wellington.
The Auckland Huskies, in their first proper season in the league, have surpassed pre-season expectations and regular contenders like the Canterbury Rams, to secure the fourth spot, and the right to play the Saints in the semi-finals.
The Huskies, well-coached by Aaron Young, rode a young team and then the play of exciting imports Jeremy Kendle, Chris Johnson and Justin Bibbs, to an 11 and 7 record.
In winning six of their last seven games, they pushed past usual suspects the Rams to claim outright fourth by two games.
The home team Saints finished with an impressive 16 and 2 record.
In doing so, they picked up a bevy of post-regular-season awards.
Announced yesterday morning, were Dion Prewster as Most Valuable Player and Defensive player of the year, while Coach Zico Coronel won Coach of the Year.
Prewster was also awarded the Most Outstanding Guard award, the Most Outstanding New Zealand Guard award, as well as being named in the All-Star Five alongside teammate Taane Samuel. Jordan Mills completed the rout of the awards cupboard, picking up General Manager of the year.
On the season, the Saints finished the year with the league’s number one ranked offense, and the number one ranked defense.
The Huskies had the sixth-best offense and the fifth-best defense.
Looking forward to the final, the Saints will start favourites, but will be wary of a Huskies team who is in form, but also have some young legs with lots to prove.
These two matched up twice in the regular season, with the Saints winning 106 - 76 and 85 - 61.
Zach Riley v Dion Prewster
There is no bigger matchup than that of captain and MVP Dion Prewster, and young dynamo and recently crowned Youth Player of the year Zach Riley.
In a Huskies team with an average age of 23-years-old, the 18-year-old Riley has been a revelation. In the second half of the season as his role grew, he averaged over 14 points per game on an excellent 37.8 percent from deep.
His speed and cutting ability, combined with excellent shooting, has brought all sorts of overseas interest.
For Prewster, he fired the first shot in these two teams’ matchup last week, with one of his best games of the season while being guarded by Riley.
Prewster was a stand-out for the Saints all season, averaging 18.7 points per game on an uber-efficient 55 percent from the field, and 82.9 percent from the line.
Though Prewster may not guard Riley on Thursday, Riley will have the pleasure of matching up with Prewster on the other end. Prewster is made of granite, and his ability to put the ball on the floor and muscle his way to the cup, will make him a tough cover for Riley.
Riley will try and impact the game off ball by looking to shoot threes off the catch, or cut to the basket for layups.
Taane Samuel - Tom Vodanovich
This matchup between two of the best forwards in the competition, will be of epic proportions. The 26-year-old Vodanovich is coming off a fine season with the Sydney Kings where he averaged a career-high in points in the Australian NBL.
Vodanovich is a great defender who shoots the three well, while also being a tough cover around the rim. He shot an elite 61.9 percent from two for the Huskies this season.
He will have his work cut out for him in guarding the breaking-out Samuel.
After being named youth player of the year in 2020, Samuel’s naming in the All-Star five this season has catapulted him into the NZ NBL’s elite.
He shot an exceptional 46.5 percent from three this season, one of the best rates in the entire league.
Vodanovich is one of the few players in the league who can guard Samuel, maybe canceling out some of his explosive drives to the rim.
Samuel will also have his hands full on the other end, with the aggressive Vodanovich able to score inside and out.
Grab your tickets here for Semis and Finals, Thursday 22nd Friday 23rd July