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Saints secure sixth NBL regular season crown 06 Jul 2013

Sam Worthington - Dominion Post

Catch us if you can say the Wellington Saints, who clinched the NBL's regular season title by beating the Southland Sharks 104-93 tonight at TSB Bank Arena.

Despite again being without injured point guard Lindsay Tait (thumb), the Saints registered their ninth straight W on the back of another impressive team performance.

The 14-2 Saints will now prepare for next weekend's Final Four tournament, with Tait almost certain to return as the team guns for its eighth championship after coming up short in last year's decider.

A loss by eight points or less would have been enough for the Saints to claim top billing for next Saturday's semifinals at Hawke's Bay's Pettigrew Green Arena.

But that was never an option as former Tall Blacks team-mates turned coaches Pero Cameron and Paul Henare matched wits on the sidelines.

The Saints can now put their feet up and wait to discover their semifinal opponent as the regular season concludes tomorrow.

Southland's loss means there is a three-way tie for second with the Otago Nuggets and Nelson Giants also sitting on 11-4 records.

Nelson hosts Southland tomorrow, while Otago should be able to arrest their slumping form-line when they visit Taranaki.

The Saints held the upper hand for the entire evening as Rick Rickert (12 rebounds), Casey Frank and co hit the boards for an overall 48-37 rebounding win.

The hosts' field goal percentage was also healthy, 51 to Southland's 41, and the Sharks only stayed in the hunt thanks to a turnover discrepancy.

Playing without a natural point guard, the Saints coughed the ball up 15 times to the visitors' nine, an issue which should be resolved by Tait's anticipated return.

There were plenty of willing contributors on both sides but the match-up between high flying forwards Bryant Markson and Leon Henry was the highlight.

Markson was close to being sent home mid-season to make way for Rickert, but after a rusty start the American has just got better and better.

Markson matched Henry with an efficient 30 points (11/18 FG) despite Rickert and Corey Webster being favoured as the plan A offensive options.

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Cigna Saints 10 1 20
Nelson Giants 9 2 18
Southland Sharks 7 3 14
Hawkes Bay Hawks 6 5 12
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Taranaki Mountainairs 2 8 4
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