The Robinhood Stars have dropped to second on the ANZ Premiership ladder after losing to the Northern Mystics 65-57 at home in Auckland in the second instalment of the Northern Challenge series.
Both teams opened proceedings with a cautious approach, apprehensive about putting the first foot wrong in a crucial contest. As goals were traded for much of the period, both teams would find themselves guilty of giving the ball away with held ball calls but neither could capitalise.
The Mystics managed to edge to a two goal advantage just past the halfway mark of the quarter, but the dynamic defensive duo of Anna Harrison and and Elle Temu finally got reward for some tenacious work in the circle and helped nab back to back turnovers which led to the Stars being in front for the first time in the game.
Amorangi Malesala started at goal attack for the first time this season and was on fire early partnering Maia Wilson. The pair showed tremendous poise under pressure with both shooting at 100% as the Stars led 17-15 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was a lot more loose from both teams with a total of 21 turnovers and a 10-11 split largely telling the story. Just as it looked like one team was going to take control, a cheap turnover would put the other right back into the match.
The Stars pushed their lead out to as much as five goals early, before three consecutive turnovers suddenly saw the Mystics in front by one.
The Stars rallied with some strong defensive presence and sharp passing late in the quarter and eventually wrestled back the advantage and hung on for a 29-28 lead at half-time.
Midcourters Mila Reuelu-Buchanan and Gina Crampton were under immense pressure all half, but still managed to 47 feeds and 29 goal assists collectively.
The Mystics made a fast start to the second half and quick turnovers resulted in them taking control and having a four goal lead.
Mystics shooter Grace Nweke imposed herself inside the circle and was proving to be an immovable object no matter how hard the Stars' defence tried to nab a much needed turnover.
The Stars tried with desperation to regain the ball and cut down the deficit from all over the court, but couldn't manage to eat into the four-goal hole they found themselves in and went into the final quarter down 48-44.
The Mystics made the Stars' fight harder with a relentless fourth quarter display where they maintained control of the game throughout.
The Stars tried valiantly to come back in the game, but gave away too much ball and with the Mystics capitalising the deficit blew out to eight goals, starving the Stars of a bonus point and seeing them lose 65-67.
The Stars won't have to wait long to have another crack at their rivals, with the final meeting of the regular season between the two teams taking place next Sunday at Trusts Arena.