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Perth Wildcats 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 Perth Wildcats who had another outstanding season.

SEASON SUMMARY:

Another great season for the Wildcats as they made the Grand Final for the third successive season and the sixth time in Trevor Gleeson’s eight-year reign as coach. Unfortunately, for the now departing Gleeson (who is set for a coaching role in the NBA) they could not overcome Melbourne United, losing 3-0 in the Grand Final Series.

The Wildcats ended the regular season in second position recording 25 wins and 11 losses in what was another consistent season for the club. Luckily (or unluckily) they were able to maintain a healthy roster for most of the season until an end of season blow, which saw reigning MVP Bryce Cotton year prematurely ended after having surgery to relieve pressure from a haematoma in his left quadriceps.

The injury to Cotton ultimately had a big impact with the rest of the squad unable to overcome United. John Mooney and Todd Blanchfield were left to carry a much bigger load come finals, but it was a bridge too far for the pair and their fellow teammates.

HOW IT UNFOLDED:

The Wildcats started the season losing three of their first five games (twice to SEM Phoenix and once to United), before they got back into their winning rhythm with a five-game streak. After a sole loss, the Wildcats then had an even better run, winning nine straight games. In a 17-game stretch around those streaks, they only lost twice.

The semi-final series against Illawarra was going to be intriguing, a top-quality opposition without their star man, however Trevor Gleeson got his team playing some good quality basketball, and they were too strong defeating the Hawks 2-1 in the series.

When they met Melbourne in the final, unfortunately, the loss of Cotton was too big for the class of the first placed Melbourne outfit. The Wildcats lost twice in Perth, by three points in game one, and nine points in game two, before Melbourne won the final game at John Cain Arena 81-76.   

WHAT WORKED WELL:

The combination of Cotton and Mooney this season was fantastic they averaged 23.5 and 17.3 points respectively, while Cotton won the league MVP and led the league in points, it was Mooney who dominated the glass across the NBL (11.4 per game). Both players made the All NBL First Team to cap off a great season. On another individual note, Mitch Norton finished third in the league Defensive Player of the Year Award.

The defence was a strong aspect of the Perth outfit this season, conceding the least points in the league with 2900 for the season (80.6 per game), while they were also ranked fourth in steals (6.3 per game).

Offensively, the team was solid, but not a league leader. They were ranked fifth for points per game (85.3) and were fifth for three pointers made 9.2 per game. From the field they were not great, but they were the league leaders in getting to the free throw line and converting (16.1 per game on 79.7 per cent shooting). They also showed that they were able to create shots for each other with the best assist numbers (18.8 per game) and creating second chance points (11.2 offensive rebounds per game – ranked second). The Wildcats also had the least turnovers out of any team only averaging 10.3 per game.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

As mentioned, the Wildcats did not perform fantastically from the field, they were ranked eighth for field goals made (30.0 per game) and their shooting percentage of 43.4 per cent was also second worst in the NBL. Strangely, they only managed 1.9 blocks per game which was the worst by any team despite conceding the fewest points and having a strong defensive season. Apart from this, there was not a lot that went wrong with the Wildcats season, the Cotton injury was far from ideal, but it was unavoidable.

MVP CONVERSATION:

After winning his third NBL MVP, being selected in the All-NBL First Team for the fourth time and winning the Members MVP (voted by the “Red Army”) for the fourth consecutive season, it would take a brave person to back against Bryce Cotton.

Cotton had another stellar season, but unfortunately missed out on the chance to help his team win the Grand Final Series due to injury. Across 32 games Cotton averaged 23.5 points (up 0.6 compared to last season), 5.7 assists (increase of 1.7 from last season) and 1.5 steals (equal third this season), showing his class on the offensive and defensive ends.

John Mooney was a great asset to Perth this season. The big man was a double-double machine, with his averages of 17.3 points and11.4 rebounds as well as three assists. He shot 55 per cent from the field and was an important part of the teaming making the Grand Final without Cotton in the line-up.

Mooney had a great season but expect Cotton to take home the Gordon Ellis Medal for the fourth straight season.

ROSTER NEWS:

There’s been plenty happening with the team since the Grand Final defeat with Clint Steindl, Jarred Bairstow, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk all departing, alongside Will Magnay who has signed with new franchise Tasmania JackJumpers.

In a big blow for the team, John Mooney has reportedly signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on a Summer League contract after one season in the NBL.

In better news, league MVP Bryce Cotton remains contracted for next season, with Todd Blanchfield and Luke Travers also locked in. Corey Shervill (two years), Majok Majok (two years), Jesse Wagstaff (one year), and Mitch Norton (three years) have all signed new deals with the club that will see them remain in Perth.

As mentioned, Trevor Gleeson is departing the club after eight successful seasons, joining Jacob Chance as departing coaching staff.

LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT SEASON:

With Gleeson departing, the Wildcats will be on the hunt for a new head coach in the next few weeks, but don’t expect the new boss to have any troubles making the playoffs in their first season. This is a club with a rich history and with guys like Cotton, Blanchfield and Norton already on the list, a couple smart additions could make a championship calibre roster very quickly, if it isn’t already one. Expect Perth to be right up there again regardless of who is in charge.

 

Picture credit: AAP

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 make it two from two away from home

MELBOURNE United are one step away from claiming the ultimate prize toppling Perth Wildcats in Game 2 of the Grand Final series (83-74).  Backing up their performance from only days earlier, United got the job done at RAC Arena digging deep in the second half.

It was a blistering first term of basketball from Perth as the home side charged out of the blocks with a real point to prove. Only going down by three points in Game 1 it looked as if the Wildcats were out for vengeance nice and early despite missing the likes of Bryce Cotton, Clint Steindl and Luke Travers. It was always going to be hard to find scoring avenues but the Wildcats did not have that issue in the opening term as John Mooney and Will Magnay inserted themselves in the contest. United would not give in though as Chris Goulding picked up where he left off, finding his stroke from down-town alongside Jock Landale. But Perth were relentless piling on eight points straight and continued to attack the rim as Kevin White replaced Mitch Norton who was struggling with an injury he sustained in Game 1. By quarter time the Wildcats had established a handy 10-point lead to put them in good stead for the match.

Disappointed with their efforts in the first term United came out with a much more spirited performance to start the second, pegging away at the deficit thanks to eight straight points as Jo Lual-Acuil found his groove. It was not until Yudai Baba drained a three-pointer that United hit the front. But the twists and turns continued as the lead changed hands once again as Perth went on a handy nine point scoring spree to quash United’s momentum. With the clock ticking down to half time, Baba had other ideas as he landed one from three-point range before bringing the house down with a half-court shot on the buzzer to level the scores at 42 apiece.

With neither side really able to assert themselves on the contest it was United’s time to shine and that they did. Goulding showcased his leadership and grit to spur his side on as they rallied, adding nine consecutive points to establish a handy lead. but Goulding proved costly on the foul front notching up his fourth for the evening and subsequently pushing him to the bench. Credit to Melbourne’s defence the Wildcats were unable to find any easy avenue to the basket as Mooney was shut down and Todd Blanchfield struggled to have the same impact he did in Game 1. United controlled majority of the term despite a couple of late points from White and Magnay to get the three quarter time buffer to five points.

It was all coming down to the final quarter with United looking to close out the game and the Wildcats hoping to do the unthinkable and flip the script to notch up a win. But that was not to be, as Melbourne got busy in the first couple of minutes with Scotty Hopson opening the account with a jump shot to set the wheels in motion. Goulding was re-injected back into the action with the captain impressing with his dominance from beyond the arc . Things just continued to steadily tick along for United as their class and depth shone through against a depleted Perth outfit.

Mooney was the main playmaker for the Wildcats producing 17 points and nine rebounds while Blanchfield was down on his Game 1 efforts finishing with 13 points and eight rebounds. Norton managed 12 points in his 27 minutes while White also chimed in with a handy 12 points and two rebounds. There were a few more contributors for the victors but once again it was Goulding that led the way sinking 21 points at 50 per cent from the field. His dominance from three-point range was a standout draining four shots from seven attempts. Landale racked up a double-double thanks to his 12 points and 17 rebounds, 15 of which were defensive while Baba had a game to remember sinking 15 points and four rebounds. Lual-Acuil was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points as Hopson walked away with nine points to his name.

Game 3 will be played at John Cain Arena as Melbourne United look to seal the deal with a win and secure the coveted premiership. But it will not be easy given Perth are back-to-back champions for a reason and will be eager to make amends for their shortcomings.

Photo credit: AAP

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

First half blitz sees order restored, Wildcats back in the Grand Final

IT was a feat that no matter how much you took away from Perth Wildcats – a star player down and out, a one-game deficit – the reigning back-to-back champions were always going to find a away. Trevor Gleeson‘s team just refused to give in, and it showed during the Wildcats’ defining third game to put away a brave Illawarra Hawks in the National Basketball League (NBL) Semi-Finals Series.

The Wildcats lost the opening game at home, found a way to win on the road, then delivered the knockout blow back at RAC Arena, doing what they failed to do in the first game, and really putting last year’s wooden spooners to the sword early. A first half blitz, a dominant John Mooney close to the basket collecting everything, and a resurgent Todd Blanchfield showing his former side the exit door all led to the Wildcats’ eight-point win to secure yet another Grand Final Series spot.

In even better news, the Wildcats will get to play their two allocated home games up first against the winner of either Victorian side Melbourne United or South East Melbourne Phoenix, which if they can win already gives them a head start before needing to hit the road. Border restrictions have certainly played a huge part, but everything is aligning for an against-the-odds Wildcats title again.

From the opening tip-off it appeared both sides seemed to be comfortable in the do-or-die semi-final, as Illawarra Hawks got out to a five-point advantage midway through the term. It would not only prove to be their largest lead of the match, but once they surrendered it, the Hawks would never get it back. Instead, the Wildcats took control in the second half of the term to win the quarter 23-15, and by half-time that lead had grown to 46-32 and the writing was on the wall.

Brian Goorjian‘s Hawks were a different breed to the dismal outfit of 2019/20, so they threw down the gauntlet to the Wildcats in the third term, restricting the home side to just nine points, winning the quarter by 10 and cutting the final break deficit to just four – it was game on. When Tyler Harvey nailed the first triple of the last stanza, the Hawks were within a point (55-54), but that only spurred the Wildcats on, going up a gear that perhaps only they have, piling on 11 straight points to suddenly hold a 12-point advantage (66-54) with 6:31 on the clock. Whilst the Hawks were able to cut the deficit back – even reducing it to four points late in the game, it was that burst that proved the difference in the 79-71 result.

Perth won the rebounds (41-34), assists (16-11) and shot at a marginally higher clip (40 to 39 per cent), as well as scored more from turnovers (20-19) despite having more turnovers (15-12). The Hawks held their own with more blocks (7-2), second chance points (11-8) and bench points (21-17), but in the end it would not be enough, and their shooting percentage, particularly from long-range (29 per cent) and from the free-throw line (72 per cent) hurt.

Mooney finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds – 13 defensive – as well as two assists, while Blanchfield shot 24 points – four of 11 from long-range – five rebounds, three steals and two assists in a strong partnership. Mitch Norton (15 points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals) was the other double-digit scorer, while Clint Steindl (eight points, two assists), Luke Travers (seven points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Jesse Wagstaff (six points, four rebounds) also did well.

For the Hawks, Harvey had the 10 points, two rebounds and two assists, with Sam Froling (14 points, eight rebounds and four blocks) being huge on defence and Justin Simon (nine points, 11 rebounds – five offensive – and four assists) a menace at both ends. Daniel Grida (nine points, three rebounds and two steals) and Justinian Jessup (eight points, three rebounds, three steals and two blocks) also contributed in an even starting five.

Perth Wildcats will host the winner of the other Semi-Finals Series on Friday night, followed by Game Two on Sunday night, as the remainder of the fixture is yet to be decided pending border restrictions.

Picture credit: Paul Kane / Getty Images

Wildcats claw their way to third game with win on the road over Hawks

JUST when it looks like Perth Wildcats are down for the count, one can never discount them as a title threat. The two-time reigning champion and greatest team of the modern era, missing their best player and star Most Valuable Player Bryce Cotton, went a game down against the Hawks at their fortress of RAC Arena and looked like a sweep was in order. Instead, development player Luke Travers and a team refusing to concede their title run was over, picked themselves off the canvas and delivered a sterling 79-71 win over Illawarra Hawks to force a third game back at RAC Arena.

In the match, it was the visitors who started off well to lead by three points in the opening term to try and quiet down the WIN Entertainment Centre crowd. Illawarra responded to the first term with an 18-12 second term which saw the momentum go in their favour to take a three-point advantage into half-time. The Hawks continued to lead up until the midway point of the third quarter, before the Wildcats exploded to even drag the lead out to double-digits before a couple of late scores made it seven points in favour of the visitors. Both teams were fairly even in the last term, but the Wildcats never let it get closer than six points, for an eventual eight-point win, 79-71.

Illawarra Hawks actually had the higher shooting efficiency, nailing 42 per cent of their field goals compared to Perth’s 39 per cent. They dominated the steals (10-3) and blocks (6-1), and also had less turnovers (9-14) leading to more points from turnovers (13-7). With more points in the paint (32-30) as well, the home team certainly had enough aspects on their terms in the game. Perth managed to get to the line more often with 14 of 21, whilst the Hawks only hit one of four in a higher field shooting effort. The Wildcats dominated the rebounds (48-35) and assists (22-13), and also had less fouls (15-19), more second chance points (16-9) and bench points (28-22).

Travers won Player of the match honours with a huge 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes of action, evenly splitting his rebounds with five on both the offensive and defensive ends. John Mooney (18 points, eight rebounds and two assists), Clint Steindl (12 points, three assists and two rebounds) and Todd Blanchfield (11 points, five rebounds five assists and two steals) all hit double-figure points. Will Magnay (seven points, six rebounds) and Kevin White (six points, five rebounds and six assists) also had strong influences in the win.

For the Hawks, Tyler Harvey knocked up 24 points, four steals, two rebounds and two assists, with six of 11 from long-range helping his cause as his two-point range departed him (three of 12). Justinian Jessup chipped in with 11 points and two rebounds, whilst Deng Deng (nine points, four rebounds) and Justin Simon (eight points, five assists, two rebounds and two steals) both stood up. Isaac White (eight points) helped in 14 minutes off the bench, whilst Sam Froling (six rebounds and four blocks) worked hard at both ends.

The final and deciding semi-final clash between the teams takes place tomorrow night at RAC Arena, 9:30pm AEST with the winner advancing through to the Grand Final series.

Picture credit: AAP

United take out minor premiership

MELBOURNE United secured top spot on the National Basketball League (NBL) ladder with a win over rivals Perth Wildcats (78-64). The win gifts United the privileges of a home court advantage but will hoping that fans are allowed into the stadium given the current COVID-19 restrictions in Victoria. Nevertheless first place has long been Melbourne’s this season and this victory sealed the deal.

Although Perth were without two of their key contributors in Bryce Cotton and Mitch Norton that should not discount the magnitude of the win, with confidence key heading into finals. the loss marks Perth’s second straight loss while United managed their second win in a row to go with a full head of steam heading into the playoffs.

The Wildcats came out with a point to prove nailing the first five points of the game. The experienced head of Todd Blanchfield stepped up to the plate early, applying some strong scoreboard pressure. But that is where is stopped as the visitors upped the ante in both offence and defence to stop the Wildcats in their tracks and go on the attack themselves. The bench players in Yudai Baba and David Barlow were able to make their presence felt from down town landing a couple of handy threes. But the most impressive rally was when United piled on 10 points straight to round out the term as Jo Lual-Acuil carried the weight of the world on his shoulders credit to his six points. United established a commanding 12 point lead by the end of the first quarter and did not look like giving it up.

But the class of the Wildcats started to come to the fore as the reigning premiers proved they were not going to go down without a fight. Clint Steindl lent a hand in attack sinking a triple while Blanchfield also continued to do damage from beyond the arc. With their tails well and truly up the Wildcats were able to plug away at the margin using their smarts and skill to go on a points scoring spree of their own. Nailing six points straight to close out the term Perth were able to reduce the deficit to just seven points and give them a fighting chance heading into the second half.

The third term tightened up with both sides still trying to assert their dominance. However it was United that still had the upper hand as Sam McDaniel and Jock Landale played their part in keeping their sides noses in-front. After a quiet start to the game, Chris Goulding finally got his time to shine landing his first points of the game but the spirit of the Wildcats was still profound. Blanchfield and Jesse Wagstaff finished the term with a hot hand as the duo worked in overdrive to cull the margin to eight at the final change.

With the game on the line it was United that controlled proceedings, digging deep to keep the game on their terms and secure the win. The key figures inBarlow and Landale chimed in at the right time for United to keep Perth at bay and win the game by 14-points.

The contest between Landale and John Mooney was enthralling with the two barometers for their respective sides going head to head. However it is fair to say that Landale had the upper hand and was a key reason for United’s success as he produced 14 points and five rebounds. Lual-Acuil led all-comers with his 16 points and two assists off the bench while Mitch McCarron also had a point to prove draining 11 points and picking up six rebounds and five assists in the win. Goulding was down on his productivity recording six points and four rebounds as Barlow got busy in his 20  minutes on court with nine points and four rebounds to his name. Blanchfield was the most dominant scorer for the Wildcats finishing with 15 points at 35 per cent from the field. Luke Travers was a handy option for Perth recording 10 points and eight rebounds while Will Magnay also sunk 10 points and collected two rebounds and two assists.

Photo credit: Paul Kane

Hawks lock in top four spot with a scintillating victory over Wildcats

PLAYING back in front of their home crowd, the Illawarra Hawks produced a miracle win to topple the Perth Wildcats and secure a finals berth. After being bottom of the table last year the Hawks reversed their fortunes this season and this game was no different taking on the juggernaut that is Perth and coming up big with a narrow two point win, 81-79. Not only was it a fairytale performance for the Hawks playing unit, but so too for coach Brian Goorjian who is set to take lead his side into his 21st consecutive appearance.

It was always going to be a hot battle with the two sides jostling for prime position when it comes to the ladder. But it was the Hawks that made all the running early as they got busy on the scoreboard. Star, Tyler Harvey was on song early commanding the ball and doing his best job to apply scoreboard pressure opening the match with a triple to indicate the type of form he was in. Justinian Jessup also lent a hand with a jump shot of his own as the Hawks started to motor and hold the Wildcats up in offence. This momentum continued for much of the term as Illawarra controlled proceedings to create a handy four-point lead heading into the break.

Holding both the lead and momentum from the first term, Illawarra looked to capitalise but it was Perth that struck first as Clint Steindl landed a timely three to get his side back to within one point. With the pressure on them Illawarra managed to find a way to keep the scoreboard ticking over as Tim Coenraad hit a jump shot of his own to extend the margin back to four points. It was tit for tat for much of the term as neither team could really gain the ascendancy with the scores level midway through the term before the Wildcats pulled away thanks to John Mooney and his scoring prowess. With the tables now reversed as Perth held a four point buffer the Hawks needed to find a way to get back into the match. The answer proved to be bench points as Isaac White and Deng Deng found their rhythm as Harvey continued to be a thorn in the Wildcats side. their increased output saw the lead change hands once again as Illawarra clinched a narrow six point upper hand at the half.

The Wildcats came out firing in the third term with their increased pressure making it hard for the Hawks to find easy access to the rim. Todd Blanchfield and Jarred Bairstow worked their way into the match to reel in the deficit and give the Wildcats a chance to overcome their opponents. But the Hawks were unwilling to relinquish their lead despite scores being tied up at the nine minute mark at 44 apiece. Justin Simon saw the opportunity to inflict some scoreboard pain and that he did with a driving layup to reclaim the lead and most importantly some composure for the home side. Sam Froling also chimed in with a powerful dunk as the Hawks pushed out to a five point lead but the Wildcats continued to linger as Steindl landed a handy shot right on the buzzer.

A mere five points separated the two sides heading into the final break. Tensions were high with a win securing the Hawks a definite spot in finals and for the Wildcats a chance at stealing top spot. Neither side were willing to take a backwards step as Jesse Wagstaff ate into the deficit almost instantaneously. Wagstaff along with Mooney came to play in the final term as they spurred their side on to steal the lead with a tick over two minutes to play. but somehow the Hawks dug even deeper as the usual suspects in Harvey and Jessup stepped up to the plate to convert. It all came down to the final play of the game with Mooney unleashing a hail Mary three but missing as the Hawks run out victorious.

Harvey topscored for the Hawks thanks to his 27 points at 36 per cent from the field. He was relatively accurate from down town sinking five triples while he also picked up four rebounds and three assists. Froling produced 14 points and two rebounds as Jessup was down on his points scoring load with 12 but still managed to have an impact off the boards with four rebounds. Deng was another handy contributor thanks to his 11 points and while Andrew Ogilvy did not score he managed seven rebounds. For the Wildcats it was Steindl that led the way thanks to his 15 points as Mooney racked up another double-double credit to his 14 points and 15 rebounds, 11 of which were defensive. Wagstaff was strong off the bench for his 12 points as Will Magnay also plied his trade racking up seven points and five rebounds.

Photo credit: Mark Kolbe

Wildcats grind past 36ers as form builds for finals

BRYCE who? In their triumph over the Adelaide 36ers, the Perth Wildcats proved that while Bryce Cotton is an absolute gun of the competition, they can still prove dangerous without him. The dual-National Basketball League (NBL) MVP missed Sunday’s game, with the team opting to not risk his health following a groin injury. Cotton has been immensely valuable for the Wildcats, and there were question marks around whether this team could perform without him. These doubts were squashed as the team ground their way to a 76-68 win at Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

The game started as a close affair, with Wildcat Mitchell Norton involved early with his ability to not only score the ball but find teammates with great looks. The 36ers were keeping up with their opponents however, and each lead gained was immediately met with an instant reply. While the start was promising for the Wildcats, a major concern raised pre-match was fatigue, as this was the side’s 11th match in just six days. This was reflected in play, but not on the scoreboard, as the side scrapped their way to a four-point advantage at the first break. The second term saw the Wildcats jump to an early nine-point lead, thanks to a Clint Steindl three ball and some crafty work inside from Norton. This lead would not last though, with Adelaide able to keep the pace with their opponents and stay right in the contest. Ball movement was the key for the 36ers, and they trailed by just two points at half-time, and left for the locker room with plenty of confidence.

The second half opened in tense fashion, with both teams trading baskets. It was not until halfway through the term that the Wildcats were able to break away to a six-point lead, but it took just two minutes for this advantage to disappear, and the teams were back and forth once again. A handy three-pointer from Kevin White saw the Wildcats head into the final term with a five-point margin. The fourth quarter delivered plenty of fast-paced action, as the lead floated around the six-point mark for majority of the term. The dagger came in the form of a strong and-one from Norton that put his side up by seven points to seal the game, in what was a gutsy win from the away side.

For the Wildcats, the star of the show was Norton, as the guard was given more opportunity with the absence of Cotton and grabbed it with both hands. He finished the match with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Norton showed leadership qualities as he drove his side to an important win heading into the finals series. With Cotton’s return imminent, Norton should prove another serious threat for Perth in the finals. He had some impressive help from teammate John Mooney who poured in 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Todd Blanchfield had 14 points of his own. For the 36ers, four of their starters finished with double digits, as they made their way to 68 points despite no player scoring over 13 points.

This marks the fourth consecutive loss for the 36ers, with their finals hopes all but vanquished. They next travel to Christchurch Arena take on the New Zealand Breakers on Tuesday night as they look for a shot at redemption. This was also the 24th win for the season for the Wildcats as they look towards the upcoming finals series, with this victory only boosting their momentum. Their next match comes in the form of Thursday’s blockbuster clash with the Sydney Kings at RAC Arena.