Tag: Chris Goulding

2021 Olympics preview

THE Olympics rolls around every four years, or in this case five given the current climate with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But with that it provides an opportunity for the best athletes and basketballers to culminate in one spot and represent their country. With players stemming from all different leagues and countries expect an action packed couple of weeks of high class basketball both in the men’s and the women’s. Draft Central takes a look at some of the standout players from each nation and potential medallists.

Men’s:

Group A:

Iran
France
USA
Czech Republic

It is fair to assume that the US will once again take out top spot in Group A with the nation renowned for its basketball excellence and sheer star power. The US currently hold the number one ranking in the world, and will be keen to keep that tradition running with a convincing performance in the group stage but will be tested against the likes of France who are likely to give the US a run for their money. Iran and Czech Republic are on the lower end of the FIBA standings but that does not mean they will not be tough competitors.

When looking at top performers it is hard to go past the services of Kevin Durant who has tasted his fair share of success both on the national and international stage. Durant has received a wealth of accolades such as MVP awards in the NBA to being named in the All-NBA team. But one thing he is yet to secure is the coveted gold medal and this could be his opportunity for the US. Playing alongside the likes of Damian Lillard, the up and coming Jayson Tatum and Draymond Green, America are nicely poised to push for a gold medal. Having just won the NBA title with Milwaukee Bucks expect the likes of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton to have a real fire in their belly to keep that winning momentum happening and to add to their growing trophy cabinet. Rudy Gobert will be the main player in focus for France given his reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year while Nicolas Batum is also a livewire. Tomas Satoransky has proven that he can be a match winner for Czech Republic and will need to unlock that level of heroics throughout the Olympics to give his side a chance.

Group B:

Australia
Germany
Italy
Nigeria

The Boomers have enjoyed a rapid rise over the past couple of years and have showcased their dominance in their past couple of outings with a huge upset win over the US. With this level of momentum and victories already against the likes of Nigeria expect Australia to lead the way in Group B and secure top spot. Nigeria are currently 22nd in the world and will be hoping to increase their standings, while Italy is nicely poised in 10th and will be eager to string together some strong consecutive performances to assert themselves on the contest.

There will be plenty of key contributors across the board but when looking at the Boomers there are a couple of standouts with flagbearer and fan favourite Patty Mills likely to set the court alight. Expect the San Antonio Spurs representative to set the tone with his constant hustle, speed and drive across the court while Joe Ingles is another one to keep an eye on given his NBA experience. Chris Goulding and Jock Landale have been in fine form coming off premiership glory with Melbourne United in the NBL. Throw in the likes of NBA draft hopeful Josh Giddey and the Boomers are shaping up nicely to be real gold medal contenders if they are able to put out consistent high level performances. It has been a while since Germany have competed in basketball but Washington Wizards guard Isaac Bonga will be hoping to make an impact, while for Italy keep an eye out for the experienced Nicolo Melli. Nigeria have eight players currently in the NBA highlighting the extreme depth the nation has, making for an exciting pool of action.

Group C: 

Argentina
Japan
Spain
Slovenia

Group C is going to create plenty of intrigue with the host nation, in Japan the lowest ranked country heading into the event. It is the first time that Japan has competed in basketball since 1976 and they will be hoping to improve their output this time around. However it will not be easy up against the likes of Spain who hold second spot in the FIBA rankings, while Argentina are also no easy beats given their fourth placed ranking. Expect the contest between Argentina and Spain to be enthralling as the two nations go head-to-head in order to secure the number one position in the group.

There is no denying that Luka Doncic is the main draw card for Slovenia with the guard an imposing figure in the NBA and likely to bring that attitude into the Olympics. Expect Doncic to carry the weight of his nation and lead from the front to give his country a chance to propel past the group stage. For Japan, Yudai Baba will hoping to use his NBL experience to full advantage when he takes the court, while both Rui Hachiamura and Yuta Watanbe are also imposing figures both in stature and game play. Watanbe stands at six foot nine inches, and will not be overwhelmed by the bigger bodies credit to his three years with the Toronto Raptors in the NBA. All eyes will be on Argentinian veteran Luis Scola who is suiting up for his fifth Olympics campaign while Spain are littered with match winners. For Spain they have a couple of tried and tested campaigners that will be eager to lead the way with Marc Gasol and his brother Pau Gasol more than capable of hitting the scoreboard while Ricky Rubio should not be underestimated.

Prediction:

Gold medal: Australia
Silver medal: USA
Bronze medal: Spain

Women’s:

Group A:

Korea
Serbia
Canada
Spain

Group A is the most stacked pool with three nations inside the top 10 all competing. With the men not qualifying for Serbia the hopes of a nation rest on the shoulders of the women’s team. Serbia are more than capable of dominating and have proven that time and time again. But the pool is littered with top contenders as Spain are no slouches and in fact sit higher in the FIBA rankings currently holding onto third spot while Canada is hot on their heels sitting in fourth spot. The battle for prime position will go right down to the wire.

Regulars at the Olympics, Canada will be hoping that their big names such as Kia Nurse and Natalie Achonwa are able to step up to the challenge and pave the way. Nurse is no slouch and has a wealth of accolades to her name having played both in the NBL and NBA. For Spain, expect the likes of Astou Ndour to lead the way given her WNBA experience if she is to assert herself on the competition.

Group B:

Nigeria
Japan
France
USA

The US will be eager to maintain their number one status and take out the top of the table for Group B. They are renowned for their depth and talent but will have to be on their a-game up against the likes of France who have proven to be real fighters. Japan will be hoping to do their nation proud and create a couple of upsets, while Nigeria sit 17th in the world but are more than capable of causing upsets aplenty.

USA have the weight of the nation on their shoulders as they look for their seventh straight gold medal at these Olympic games. Littered with star players across the court the US will be hoping that the likes of Ariel Atkins, Breanna Stewart and Sylvia Fowles are able to step up to the plate and dominate. As one of the most experienced heads out on court expect Sue Bird to have a huge influence on team USA when things get heated. France will be hoping that they are able to rally together to generate some real momentum with the likes of Marine Johannes at the helm.

Group C:

Australia
Puerto Rico
China
Belgium

Australia would be quietly confident heading into the group stage of the Olympics having knocked off the US only weeks earlier and with a head full of steam. The Boomers are locked into second spot on the world standings with Belgium likely to be their toughest competitors in the early stages given they are ranked sixth. China are no easy beats and will be hoping to hit their straps to rise up the ladder while Puerto Rico will be hoping to leave nothing in the tank and make a name for themselves.

The Opals will be without the services of Liz Cambage but that will not stop them as the likes of Ezi Magbegor and Bec Allen look set to take the reins. Throw in the likes of Steph Talbot and Leilani Mitchell and Australia have a strong cohort of players able to impose themselves on the contest and score easily. Having qualified for their first Olympics expect the likes of Belgium representative Emma Meesseman to lead the way credit to her WNBA experience and finals credentials.

Prediction:

Gold medal: USA
Silver medal: Australia
Bronze medal: Canada

 

Photo credit: Basketball Australia

Melbourne United season summary

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season done and dusted we take a look at the performance of each team and how they fared in season 2021. The next team under the microscope is Melbourne United who won the 2021 NBL title.

SEASON SUMMARY:

It was a season to remember for head coach Dean Vickerman and his strong Melbourne United side, who ultimately overthrew the Perth Wildcats in a thrilling Game Three of the grand final series. The win was a welcomed outcome for the side, who were determined to have another taste at glory since their last win back in the 2017-18 NBL season.

United’s monumental season was encompassed by 28 wins and eight losses, which helped to secure their position at the top by the end conclusion of the regular season. Despite the added pressures of rounding off the regular season as a result of the Victorian lockdowns, it only seemed to help United take the top spot in the competition. The reigning champions’ roster was kept pretty similar for the majority of the season, with no major injuries plaguing the team during the season.

HOW IT UNFOLDED:

Melbourne United opened their season with a win against the Adelaide 36ers, as they kicked off what would be a phenomenal season. In the aftermath of their win against the 36ers, United saw a string of wins before hitting their first loss of the season back in round six of competition. But the slight loss of momentum from Melbourne had failed to continue. Eventually, composure and form were regained in a 10-point win against the Illawarra Hawks that ignited a winning streak. As a result of this winning streak, United would be seen to dominate the scoreboard and take out the title.

United’s chances of securing their second title in four years became a lot clearer when they took down the Southeast Melbourne Phoenix in the semi-final series. The cross-town rivals were no match for Melbourne United who put on a fiery performance to defeat the Phoenix 2-0.

Finally, Melbourne’s showdown with the second-placed Perth Wildcats saw a tight contest between the two sides. United took full advantage of the final series right from the get-go. Game one saw them get over the line against Perth by three points, meanwhile, Melbourne took out game two by nine points. Melbourne capped off the grand final season at John Cain Arena 81 to 76.

WHAT WORKED WELL:

A key part of the sides’ gameplay, United’s defence had a clear presence on the scoreboard.

Yudai Baba’s performance throughout the season a small taste of how good the sides’ defence was. His 31 steals and nine blocks were not only critical for the side to secure the years’ title but also resulted in the fan-favourite picking up Melbourne United’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chris Goulding helped his side to get started and delighting United fans during the first four minutes. The star talent put on a show collecting three triple-points in the first four minutes of the game and caused chaos for Wildcats’ offense. His nine points paved the way for what was to come in the thrilling contest. Goulding continued to keep the pressure on the Wildcats with 14 points, four rebounds and two assists.

Alongside Goulding, Jock Landale whose performance also proved critical for United with 15 points, nine rebounds, two rebounds and two blocks.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

Whilst Melbourne ranked pretty strong in defence coming in first in the competition, they slipped when it came to offence coming in third just behind Phoenix and Perth. Overall, Melbourne United had a pretty good year given they had taken out the minor championship as well as the grand final series.

ROSTER NEWS:

Melbourne United are not stopping following on from their season win, immediately turning their attention to their roster for the NBL22 season.

A major disappointment for United with Mitch McCarron departing the team to join the Adelaide 36ers.

However, in an effort to fill the void left by McCarron, Melbourne has secured two-time Olympic basketballer Matthew Dellavedova for next season. The Victorian-native, who also has 450 NBA games under his belt, will bolster an already versatile United team.

Dellavedova will join Sydney Kings veteran Brad Newley next year as new signings. Meanwhile, Shea Lli, Chris Goulding, Jack White, Mason Peatling, Jo-Lual-Acuil and David Barlow all re-signed to remain contracted with the team. Zac Triplett has also signed on with Melbourne United.

LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT SEASON:

It will not be a surprise that United will be on everybody’s radar going into the 2022 season. Melbourne United will be aiming for a back-to-back win come this time next year. With Dellavedova and Newley being thrown into the mix of big names, be prepared to see Melbourne United out on the court playing for yet another championship to add to their collection.

 

Picture credit: Daniel Pockett/AAP

United clinch 2021 NBL championship with a clean sweep

MELBOURNE United are the 2021 National Basketball League (NBL) champions claiming Game 3 in front of a home crowd. Holding top spot for majority of the season, it all came down to whether or not they would get the job done in the big dance and that they did, downing Perth Wildcats by five points (81-76) in an absolute thriller.

After spending 30 days on the road, Melbourne got the chance to play at John Cain Arena and had one thing in mind – to lift the premiership – and that was clear from the opening minutes. Inspired by veteran and United stalwart Chris Goulding, United dug deep to walk away with the chocolates. It was always going to be difficult for the Wildcats who had been dealt their fair share of injuries throughout the series with Most Valuable Player (MVP) Bryce Cotton out of action and Mitch Norton worse for wear. But that return of Luke Travers and Clint Steindl definitely gave the visitors a bit of a pep in their step. However it was not enough to knock United off their perch, imposing themselves in Game 3 much like they did in Game 1 and 2.

The opening quarter started with a bang as Melbourne wasted no time giving their fans plenty to cheer about. An 11 points to two run gifted them a handy lead and the ascendancy, with Goulding finding his stroke from deep nice and early while Mason Peatling got involved in the action. In his first game of the series, Travers showcased how important his inclusion in the Wildcats side was with a couple of early points to keep his side in the hunt. The Wildcats were up to their usual tricks by dominating off the boards picking up 13 rebounds to a mere six but were getting outdone by their opponents when it came to shooting accuracy.

A nine-point differential grew to 10 points as United looked to forge ahead but the Wildcats were not going to let it slip any further as they increased the defensive pressure. Reducing Melbourne’s ability to find their way to the rim, Perth limited their opponents to just five points in over six minutes of play while up the other end they were playing with a wealth of freedom. The Wildcats outscored United 18 to 12, with the likes of Todd Blanchfield having an influence while unfortunately it was curtains for Norton who was forced to the sideline with his continuing hip injury.

When the second half rolled around, only three points separated the two sides with the game looking like it could go either way. United fans hearts dropped when Perth hit the lead thanks to a couple of handy threes from Kevin White and Corey Shervill but the home side were not about to let it slip through their fingers. They rallied with a seven point run to steal the lead back as Scotty Hopson bobbed up alongside Jock Landale and Goulding.

With only quarter left to play it all came down to this. Yudai Baba decided it was his time to have a say draining five points as he pushed his side out to an 11-point margin. But in true Wildcats style they fought back going on a points scoring spree of their own to take things up a notch and make United sweat. John Mooney kept Perth alive with the big man having an influence up both ends of the court while a couple of the veterans for both sides plied their trade. It was a heart in your mouth final minute of play with Blanchfield sending the crowd into raptures after landing a triple to shrink the margin to just three points. But it was Landale that made his mark draining a huge jump shot followed by the icing on the cake from Baba to reign victorious and grant United their second premiership in four years.

It was a game to remember for Landale who not only landed the most crucial shot of the game with less than 40 seconds left on the clock to seal the deal for the home side, but so too walked away with the Larry Sengstock Medal as the Grand Final MVP for his efforts. Landale collected 15 points, nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks in his outing. He alongside Goulding were in hot form throughout the clash as they continued to step up to the plate and deliver. Goulding registered 14 points, four rebounds and two assists. But it was not just a two-man show as a host of other players plied their trade and got the job done for United in a tantalising battle as Peatling showcased his class with 12 points at 83 per cent from the field while Hopson also scored 12 points and picked up three assists. Mitch McCarron was influential off the boards thanks to his seven defensive rebounds as Baba finished with 11 points to his name.

For the Wildcats it was Mooney who was once again the main player in focus recording 14 points and a whopping 13 rebounds for his efforts. White also chimed in with 14 points of his own at 41 per cent from the field as Blanchfield registered a double-double credit to his 11 points and 11 rebounds in an all-round solid performance. On return, Travers was consistent sinking nine points and picking up six rebounds, two assists and a steal while Will Magnay tried hard with his 10 points.

Photo credit: Melbourne United Twitter

NBL 2021: Grand Final series – Stats analysis

ONLY days away from Game 3 of the Grand Final series and both Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats are preparing for an epic battle. In this analysis we will break down the statistics from Game 1 and Game 2 and analyse what each side needs to do if they are to claim Game 3.

Game 1 StatS:

Perth Wildcats were so close to getting the chocolates in Game 1 but fell short by three points as Melbourne United kickstarted their premiership tilt. The game was incredibly close on the scoreboard and the statistics mirrored that with not much separating the two sides in the end. Melbourne shot marginally better from the field with a 40 per cent conversion rate thanks to their 30 shots from 75 attempts in comparison to Perth’s 39 per cent. They also had the upper hand when it came to scoring from within the arc boasting a 50 per cent strike rate while the Wildcats sat at 42 per cent. But the tables turned when it came to letting go from long range as Perth imposed themselves with a 36 per cent clip as opposed to Melbourne’s 27 per cent, despite both sides nailing nine triples apiece.

United recorded two more intercepts than their opponents in Game 1 with 42 to their name in comparison to 40 while they also had more assists than Perth (17-13). Perth had their moments in defence collecting seven steals to six but their sloppy hands and costly turnovers came back to bite them as the home side coughed up the ball 17 times, while United treasured possession with just 12 turnovers across the board.

In terms of blocks, Melbourne made use of their bigmen racking up five while Perth only managed two but they gave away a couple of unnecessary fouls finishing with 17 to their name in comparison to Perth’s tidy 13. United imposed themselves in close with a whopping 40 of their 73 points coming from in the paint. Their ability to compete and convert was a key reason for their success as they kept the Wildcats to just 26 points. They also impressed when it came to second chance points slotting 13 to six and also flexed their bench depth with 23 points in comparison to 18.

Game 2 Stats:

Shooting percentage seemed to be a major issue for Perth Wildcats in Game 2 only converting at a mere 36 per cent from the field. On the flip-side, Melbourne United imposed themselves sitting at 45 per cent from the field sinking 26 shots out of the 57 attempts. United also held the upper hand specifically looking at two point accuracy albeit marginally with a 47 per cent clip compared to Perth’s 43. Another key shooting difference came in United’s ability to seal the deal from down town converting 10 of their 23 attempts to sit at 43 per cent while it was a very different story for Perth who struggled to find their range with six from 25.

When Perth did get hand to ball they managed to shoot nice and close to the rim, outscoring United when it came to points in the paint with 28 to 22 and also impressed with their second chance points with 15 to eight. Their never-say-die attitude and hustle was a key feature throughout Game 2 as they worked in overdrive to find avenues to the basket credit to Melbourne’s defence. One of the most significant and damaging statistics to come out of the game however was United’s ability to score off the bench. The visitors racked up a whopping 41 bench points while Perth only managed to slot a mere 16 highlighting the stark difference between the two sides and ultimately giving United the upper hand.

Perth narrowly edged out United when it came to rebounds amassing 40 in comparison to Melbourne’s 39, showcasing their ability to contest off the ring while they also had less turnovers (10-11). United impressed with their ball smarts to control proceedings with 17 assists to 13 while their defensive pressure was also obvious as shown through their five steals and four blocks as Perth only managed three and two respectively.

What needs to happen?

The top of the table United are one win away from claiming the ultimate glory and have the opportunity to do so in front of a home crowd. United have won all four games this season at RAC Arena but have been somewhat inconsistent at home against Perth so will be hoping for a big performance. Melbourne have been on the road for a long time now, notching up their 30th day away from home but that has not stopped them from racking up the wins securing eight victories from 10 appearances. Conversely, Perth Wildcats have really struggled to find their form and hit the scoreboard. Having dropped the first two games of the series, the back-to-back premiers will be hoping to dig into their big bag of tricks and find a way to win to push it to Game 4.

Spearheaded by coach Dean Vickerman, United have a wealth of depth at their disposal and will be hoping to exploit that in this match-up. Chris Goulding and Jock Landale will once again be the main focus for the side given their explosive nature both in offence and defence. The bench depth is an area with which United have the upper hand and that has shown in both performances so far this series with the likes of Scotty Hopson, Shea Ili and Jo Lual-Acuil – if available after going down with injury in Game 2 – will be hoping to replicate.

Plagued by injury with MVP Bryce Cotton out of action, Luke Travers missing and Clint Steindl out with a groin complaint, the Wildcats are somewhat the walking wounding while Mitch Norton has hobbled through the past two games. If the Wildcats are to muster up something extraordinary they will need breakout performances from their main two facilitators in Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney. The duo are more than capable of imposing themselves and racking up both the rebounds and points which they will need to do to get Perth over the line.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

2021 NBL Grand Final preview: Game 3

THE National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final series moves to Melbourne for Game 3 with Melbourne United looking to seal the deal against Perth Wildcats in front of a home crowd. Having played the first two games at RAC Arena the ease in COVID-19 restrictions has allowed play to transition to Victoria on Friday night with the game set to be an absolute blockbuster.

Melbourne United are sitting pretty with two wins under their belts and are one win away from securing the coveted premiership. It has been a rollercoaster series so far with Perth getting out to early leads in both games but United showcasing their class and grit to grind down the Wildcats and win. Unfortunately Perth have been struck down with a wealth of injuries with Bryce Cotton yet to take the court due to his injury, Luke Travers and Clint Steindl were both sidelined in Game 2, while sparks flew around the fitness of Mitch Norton who appeared to tweak something. Perth will once again be tested for depth in Game 3 while United are going along swimmingly on the injury front with the only concern Jo Lual-Acuil who left the court.

Scoring is proving to be a real issue for the Wildcats who have been unable to hit the 80-point mark in their past seven encounters. Meanwhile United have showcased their firepower and dominance from long range to keep the Wildcats out of the game. Momentum will be a focal point in this clash with United expected to come in with a head full of steam. But one thing that cannot be discounted is Perth’s ability to do the unthinkable. The two-time premiers have an uncanny ability to whip something up out of nothing and will need to be at their damaging best if they are to keep their slim premiership hopes alive.

United will be hoping to shut down Todd Blanchfield once again and really put the clamps on the forward like they did in Game 2. Blanchfield was an excitement machine in Game 1 but failed to have the same impact second time around but does not often have two quiet games. John Mooney is another player for the Wildcats that can turn a game in the blink of an eye given he averages 17 points and 11.4 rebounds but has not reached those heights so far this series. Kevin White and Will Magnay will have to up the ante if they are to upset United and apply some real scoreboard pressure.

Looking at United and the home side will have plenty of pep in their step when they host Perth on Friday. Chris Goulding found his stroke from beyond the arc in Game 2 and if he continues on that trajectory it could spell trouble for the Wildcats. It is a two-pronged attack for United with Goulding and Jock Landale able to hit the scoreboard with great ease. the pair have quickly become a commanding force with Landale both a threat off the boards and on the points scoring front thanks to his average of 16.5 points and 7.8 rebounds. But it is the support from their bench players that gives United a real edge with Yudai Baba having a blistering performance in Game 2 and Scotty Hopson and Mitch McCarron able to inflict scoreboard pain in a short amount of time.

Photo credit: Will Russell

United claim upper hand in Game 1

MELBOURNE United scraped home to snatch a narrow three point victory in Game 1 of the Grand Final series against a depleted Perth Wildcats (73-70). It was a hard slog with neither side willing to give an inch as the lead chopped and changed throughout the contest.

In front of a packed RAC Arena the home side was hoping to kick things off with a bang but were hit hard by injury before the game even started with three time MVP Bryce Cotton still out of action and Luke Travers unable to take the court with calf soreness. United were on the money early with captain, Chris Goulding inspiring the side before Mason Peatling contributed to the scoreboard. But the Wildcats were not about to lie down as the cogs started to tick over as Travers’ replacement in Clint Steindl converted his free-throws and Mitch Norton found his way to the rim. Perth continued this momentum to end the term with a nine point to three run creating a narrow one point lead at the break 19-18.

Looking to capitalise on their dominant end to the term Wani Swaka Lo Buluk nailed consecutive shots to push the margin out to three points before both Todd Blanchfield and John Mooney got involved in the action for Perth.  The lead ballooned out to as much as seven points as the Wildcats shut down United’s drive to the basket through their defensive efforts. It was a high intensity final three minutes of basketball in the second quarter as both sides traded blows in hope to gain the upper hand and a last second triple from none other than Goulding was exactly what the side needed heading into the main break.

Only four points separated the two sides at half time and United were eager to eat into that deficit from the opening minutes of the third quarter. With Steindl out of the game for Perth and Melbourne still at full capacity the visitors made use of their bench depth. With less than nine minutes left on the clock United levelled the scores at 35 points apiece but that was short lived as Perth hit back to forge ahead. But the twists and turns continued as Jock Landale came to life in the third with the star recruit imposing himself in every way he could while Goulding was at his damaging best from beyond the arc. United did not look like relenting with the momentum well and truly favouring them as veteran David Barlow showed some spark with a handy triple as Melbourne started to assert themselves. As the clock ticked down to the final change the visitors held a four point lead thanks to a 29 point to 18 term.

With it all to play for in the final term United were in the box seat and while the boisterous crowd were trying their hard to spur the Wildcats on it was not enough. Blanchfield was monumental for the Wildcats but it was the likes of Landale and Goulding that were doing a wealth of damage as they continued their merry way for United. In fact the lead skipped out to as much as 10 points midway through the quarter thanks to a hookshot from Jo Lual-Acuil. But as the quarter went on the spirit and fight of Wildcats came to the fore as they dwindled the margin back to three but fell short of victory with a potential to Norton also at the forefront of Perth’s mind.

Blanchfield was a consistent figure for the Wildcats topscoring with a whopping 27 points and seven rebounds all of which were defensive. Kevin White chimed in with a handy 10 points and five rebounds coming off the bench while Mooney was down on his productivity only registering eight points, seven rebounds and four steals. For United, Goulding was running hot sinking 23 points along with three rebounds and two steals. Landale was also proficient thanks to his 17 points at 43 per cent from the field plus his seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Mitch McCarron had an influence off the boards reeling in 11 rebounds and also managed six points while Lual-Acuil finished the game with 10 points and seven rebounds to his name.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

Landale guides United to victory and grand final berth

MELBOURNE United are off to the big dance once again, bypassing crosstown rivals South East Melbourne Phoenix by 10 points, 84-74. It was an inspired second half by the top of the table United who looked down and out in the opening term but turned things around to claim the win with star recruit Jock Landale imposing himself when the going got tough.

Despite just sneaking into the top four the Phoenix had a real aura of confidence and determination which was on show from the opening minutes. Although it took over a minute for a score to be registered it was Mitch Creek that landed the first blow, with the Phoenix in control of proceedings, piling on the scoreboard pressure and limiting the options United had to go to basket. Reuben Te Rangi found his rhythm nice and early before Keifer Sykes took control with the American import draining eight points alone in the first quarter. United looked in all sorts of trouble while the Phoenix were in cruise control pushing out to a handy 10-point lead thanks to a 24-14 point term.

The second quarter was not much better for United as New Zealander Izayah Le’Afa nailed consecutive threes for South East Melbourne. The game started to slip away for United as the lead ballooned out to 17 points. Needing a spark and a way to get themselves back into the contest, Landale came to life. Relatively well held in the first stanza he kicked it up a gear in the second draining a whopping 12 points alone to spur United on and single-handedly drag them back into the match. From 17 points in the early stages of the quarter, the lead was dwindled down to five to give United a fighting chance in the third.

That fighting chance was all United needed as the minor premiers rallied in the third to put the Phoenix on the back foot. The momentum steadily switched hands as fan favourite and Melbourne United stalwart, Chris Goulding imposed himself on the contest. In his 350th game, Goulding had plans that did not involve losing as he sunk a triple within the opening minutes of the quarter. Landale picked up where he left off with an additional six points while Scotty Hopson upped the ante to really apply the pressure on the Phoenix. An 18-12 term handed United the lead heading into the final term and with the grand final in sight it was all systems go.

The class and composure of United came to the fore as Mitch McCarron added to their one-point margin to push it out to three and set the wheels in motion. The increased defensive pressure from United was causing all sorts of trouble for the Phoenix who were struggling to find the basket. Goulding continued to steer the ship landing a handy triple with Yudai Baba also showing his skill from range to nail a three and seal the deal to win by 10 points.

Bursting out of the blocks in the first quarter, Sykes was well held for the rest of the match as he finished with 15 points, three rebounds and four assists to his name. Creek was his ever-reliable self, producing 19 points and nine rebounds as Te Rangi had arguably his best game to-date to topscore with 22 points at 61 per cent and register six rebounds. The load was shared relatively evenly for United but it was Landale that caught the eye with a scintillating 27 points and impressive 84 per cent accuracy from the field. He also managed eight rebounds in his 34 minutes on court. Goulding was the next best with 14 points, two assists and two steals while McCarron showed his class thanks to his 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Hopson was also handy off the bench sinking nine points and six rebounds.

United will now take on Perth Wildcats in the Grand Final series, a scenario they know all too well having played in the 2018/19 season. Melbourne will be hoping to reverse their fortunes this time round, however will have to play the first two games at RAC Arena due to current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria.

Photo credit: Mark Kolbe

Phoenix send it to Game 3 with emphatic come-from-behind win

SOUTH East Melbourne Phoenix bit back in Game 2 of the semi-finals series downing Melbourne United by 11 points, 90-79. The win takes the total to one apiece forcing the series to a decider with the winner through to the grand final. It was a tale of two halves with the second favouring the Phoenix and allowing them to get the job done.

From the opening whistle it looked like Melbourne United were going to walk away with the chocolates once again and seal their fate early with a hard-earned grand final berth. United hit the scoreboard with ease largely due to some good shooting from Chris Goulding as they skipped out to a handy 7-2 advantage. It was clear that there was plenty of feeling out on court with Jock Landale finding himself in hot water early picking up two fouls in the first term alone before teammate David Barlow registered an unsportsmanlike foul to really trouble the top of the table side. This well and truly played into the hands of the Phoenix as their key cogs stepped up to the plate with Keifer Sykes showcasing his wares. It was tit-for-tat in the final stages of the term before United landed the final blow to hold a slim two point lead at the break.

The second term saw much of the same with the two sides competing hard and throwing everything they had at one another in hope to find a winning edge – an edge United seemed to have unlocked. Things were motoring along nicely for United who snuck out to a handy nine-point lead towards the backend of the quarter as Scotty Hopson and Jo Lual-Acuil rotated strike on the scoring front. But the Phoenix were determined to fight back and not the game slip through their fingers as Yannick Wetzell nailed back to back shots before Kyle Adnam delivered from the charity strip to reduce the margin to four points at half time.

In the driver’s seat heading into the premiership term, United looked composed and in control. But the Phoenix were not done yet, they continued to linger and pester at United who were unable to put them away scoring 20 points apiece in the third. Mitch Creek and Sykes proved to be crucial for South East Melbourne with the duo finding ways to bob up and hit the scoreboard every time United tried to create some separation. A nine-point straight run from the Phoenix gifted them the lead and the ascendancy but that was short lived as Yudai Baba struck back with a much needed triple to steal the lead back heading into the final change.

The Phoenix had been thereabouts all game and now was their time to shine. With the game on the line they left nothing to chance whipping out the big guns and upping the ante particularly in defence. They stifled United keeping them to a mere nine points while they piled on a whopping 24 to completely swing the momentum. Landale found himself in further foul trouble on and off the court while the Phoenix were finding their groove. There were limited threes all night before Creek got the party started to hand his side their highest lead of the game out to five points, and from there on out, United simply had no answers and no way to combat Sykes who was having a field day as the Phoenix reigned supreme.

Both Creek and Sykes had a day out registering 26 points apiece in a strong showing for the Phoenix. Sykes converted at 55 per cent from the field while also managing four assists, three steals and three blocks as Creek picked up four rebounds. Wetzell was also strong sinking 20 points and eight rebounds providing a helping hand in offence. It was a lot more evenly spread for United who did not necessarily have a dominant player as Hopson topped the table with 19 points, four rebounds and two blocks. Goulding was next best with 14 points but was uncharacteristically inaccurate from deep only nailing two of his eight attempts. Both Mason Peatling and Lual-Acuil finished with 11 points and seven rebounds each. Landale had a night he would rather forget only registering five points in his 13 minutes while also being fouled out.

Game 3 between Melbourne United and South East Melbourne will be played on Tuesday at Qudos Bank Arena.

Photo credit: Jason McCawley

Melbourne United assert dominance over cross-town rivals in Game 1

IT was a one-sided affair as Melbourne United defeated cross-town rival South East Melbourne Phoenix by 18 points (96-78) on Friday. United showcased why they were top of the table in Game 1 of their semi-finals series with a convincing performance from the opening buzzer to lead from go-to-woe.

The Phoenix made all the running in the first few minutes of the opening quarter, piling on seven points straight to steal the lead and create a handy five-point buffer against Melbourne United. But the tables started to slowly turn as Sam McDaniel found his groove, hitting a much needed triple to get United back in the game. That was the exact spark Melbourne needed as the duo of Mason Peatling and Jock Landale asserted themselves on the contest to score with great ease and keep the scoreboard ticking over for United, while the contribution of Scotty Hopson off the bench did plenty of favours for the ladder leaders, producing seven points in the first term alone.

Holding a nice six-point lead at the break, United kicked it up a gear in the second with their defensive and offensive game on point. Forcing five turnovers in the first term alone, the Phoenix were struggling to work the ball down court and have any real potency and unfortunately it did not get any easier as Melbourne went on a scoring rampage, piling on 32 points to 18. Landale set the tone nice and early with his five points to start the quarter before veteran, Chris Goulding showed his wares with three triples to create some real scoreboard separation. Hopson continued on his merry way, finding his stroke from down town as Landale proved to be a thorn in the Phoenix’s side, posting 16 points before half time.

The 20-point half time buffer was always going to be hard to come back from for the Phoenix and while Ryan Broekhoff got the party underway, it was short lived. Their inability to treasure possession was coming back to bite them time and time again while United pounced on their opportunities. the full court defensive pressure stemming from United was palpable as they clamped down on South East Melbourne to stop them scoring for over three minutes, all while pouring on the points with 16 straight to establish a commanding 31-point lead at the final change, 85-54.

With respect on the line the Phoenix came out with a point to prove in the final term and that they did, playing with some real conviction and purpose. They increased their output on the scoreboard, sinking 24 points while limiting United’s chances to capitalise, but it mattered very little as the damage was already done.

Landale had a night to remember, producing 26 points at an impressive 71 per cent from the field. Next best for United was Hopson with 22 points in his 20 minutes on court with his accuracy from the field also crucial, going at 81 per cent. Hopson also picked up three assists. Goulding did his best work in the second term, only finishing with nine points to his name but four rebounds and an assist as Peatling reeled in six rebounds while Jo Lual-Acuil plied his trade with nine points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal. For the Phoenix it was Ben Moore that led the charge with 17 points coming off the bench along with three rebounds, as star Mitch Creek also made his presence felt with 15 points at 60 per cent from the field. Creek also managed four rebounds, six assists and two steals in an attempt to get his side over the line. Keifer Sykes worked hard for his 12 points as Broekhoff managed eight and Kyle Adnam sunk nine points but at a lowly 42 per cent.

One thing the Phoenix will take out of the game was the fact they know they can work themselves back into a match given their last quarter efforts. However if United secure the next win on Sunday – back at Qudos Bank Arena given the current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria – then it will be curtains for the Phoenix and a chance for United to lift the premiership.

Photo credit: Jason McCawley

United cap off home and away season in style

MELBOURNE United rounded out the home and away season in style, notching up another win over the Adelaide 36ers 102-80 to create some real ladder separation out in top spot on the ladder. It was a resounding win for United, winning every quarter of the match and making light work of the 36ers who simply could not compete with the high level output of Melbourne.

With the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria, United were unable to play their home game in front of a home crowd but that did not seem to stop them from getting the job done. Conversely the loss amounts to Adelaide’s seventh on the trot as the 36ers ended on a disappointing note after showing some promising glimpses to open their 2021 campaign.

Playing their second game for the round, Dean Vickerman opted to start his second unit of players and that move proved to work wonders as Jo Lual-Acuil made his mark early. Lual-Acuil managed to slot six of the first opening points of the game to claim some real ascendancy for United. The veteran in David Barlow also got involved in the action before the 36ers hit back through Daniel Johnson who landed the first points of the game for Adelaide. Moments later Brandon Paul got his hands dirty sinking a layup and the cogs started to turn for the visitors as the margin was back to three points with Tony Crocker doing the heavy lifting thanks to his 10 points. Despite Adelaide’s best efforts United continued to find a way to score opening up an eight point buffer at the break.

The second term rolled around and it was the ever-reliable and explosive Chris Goulding that drew first blood. The captain managed to sink Adelaide hearts with consecutive triples as the lead ballooned out to 17 points. He was not the only one that was finding plenty of the rock as Jock Landale and Scotty Hopson impacted the scoreboard. Johnson was working in overdrive for the 36ers lending his hand both in attack and defence producing 14 points and nine rebounds but it was simply not enough to keep in touch with United.

Holding onto a commanding 13-point lead at the main break United looked to extend that buffer and inflict some more pain. But Adelaide had other plans as they mounted somewhat of a comeback with Keanu Pinder and Crocker finding their groove and having an impact. They cut the deficit back to eight points but that is where it stopped as United once again took charge as Shea Ili and Lual-Acuil imposed themselves to get the game back on their terms winning the quarter 24-21.

The final term rolled around and United were in the box seat. Crocker made the first move draining a triple before Mitch McCarron came to life for the top of the table United. There were plenty of moments for the 36ers early in the quarter but the class and endurance of United shone through as they ground their opponents down and managed to find a way to score time and time again producing 25 points while keeping their opponents to 19. It was a strong win for Melbourne who ran out 22-point victors, leading from the opening minutes to the end of the match.

Both Hopson and Landale proved to have a hot hand for United sinking 19 points apiece. Landale fell just short of a double-double thanks to his nine rebounds to accompany his 19 points as Hopson managed two rebounds. Lual-Acuil continued his hot form thanks to his 16 points at 70 per cent from the field while Goulding finished the match with 12 points and five assists to his name. Ili was a force to be reckoned with amassing 11 points, seven rebounds and eight assists as Mason Peatling also chimed in with a handy eight points, six rebounds and three assists. Crocker was the go-to man for Adelaide sinking 27 points and five rebounds while Johnson providing good support nailing 18 points and 13 rebounds. Paul was the only other player to reach double figures with 14 points at 45 per cent from the field.

Photo credit: Daniel Kalisz