Tag: Mitchell Norton

2021 NBL Semi-finals preview: Perth Wildcats vs. Illawarra Hawks

THE first game of the National Basketball League (NBL) semi-finals is set to kick off on Thursday night when Perth Wildcats take on Illawarra Hawks.

It has been a rapid rise for Illawarra Hawks in season 2021 with the side rocketing from last place to third while the reigning premiers in Perth Wildcats will be hoping to use their finals experience to topple their opponents. Looking at the numbers and the Hawks finished the season with 20 wins and 16 losses while Perth racked up 25 wins and only suffered 11 losses for the season making for an enthralling battle.

Having only met last round, the Wildcats will be eager to reverse the fortunes and get the chocolates over Illawarra who well and truly found their groove and composure to grind out a two point win. Prior to that encounter the Wildcats were three from three with the smallest winning margin 11 points making this contest all the more exciting. But the Hawks will have their work cut out for them up against the Wildcats who will be hoping to take advantage of their home crowd in Game 1 with the match set to be played at RAC Arena. Perth have made the stadium a fortress of sorts and will be hoping to make the most of their chances to get their playoffs campaign under way in style and put their Round 21 jitters to bed. Not only will the Wildcats be keen to pounce back from their loss against the Hawks but so too the top of the table Melbourne United but they are not reigning premiers for no reason with their ability to dig deep and grind out games second to none. Meanwhile the Hawks have a chequered history with a win and a loss in Round 21 to close out the home and away season. Game 2 will be played at WIN Entertainment Centre with the Hawks playing host to the Wildcats three days later.

The Wildcats are oozing star players and none bigger than Bryce Cotton with the star guard impressing with an average of 23.47 points a game. Cotton is just about unstoppable when he gets going and is renowned for his ability to single handily change the course of a game with his dish off game just as impressive averaging 5.69 assists and 2.91 rebounds. Partner in crime, John Mooney is another standout for the Wildcats producing a handy double-double thanks to his 17.33 points and 11.42 rebounds. There is no denying that Perth have a plethora of other key role players with Todd Blanchfield, Mitchell Norton and Jesse Wagstaff all viable options. In fact the trio have all played 35 games this season showcasing their high level of endurance and ability to contribute with Blanchfield averaging 17.33 points a game plus 3.69 rebounds making him an integral cog in the Wildcats unit.

It will be up to Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup to lead the way for their side with duo renowned for their crafty court play and ability to score. Harvey averages 20.44 points a game, 3.68 rebounds, 3.24 assists and 1.38 steals. Teammate Jessup is also handy credit to his 13.26 points each time he steps out on court along with his 3.69 rebounds and 1.38 assists. But if the Hawks are to win they will need additional support from the likes of Sam Froling and Justin Simon to get the job done. Froling has proven to be a solid contributor both on the scoring and rebounding front with an average of 11.53 points and a team-high 7.06 rebounds.

Perth Wildcats vs. Illawarra Hawks
Thursday, June 10 @9:30pm

Illawarra Hawks vs. Perth Wildcats 
Saturday, June 12 @5:30pm

Photo credit: Anna Warr

2021 NBL Round 20 preview: Race for finals heats up

WITH the National Basketball League (NBL) season slowly coming to a close, Round 20 is set to bring some enticing clashes as the top sides vie for prime position on the ladder. The race for fourth spot will heat up as the Sydney Kings and Brisbane Bullets sit just outside eager to poke their way through to finals contention.

Cairns Taipans vs. Brisbane Bullets
Wednesday, May 26 @7:30pm

The Brisbane Bullets will be looking to bounce back and get a potential win over Cairns Taipans tonight to keep their slim hopes alive. It has been a trying couple of weeks for the Bullets who have been close but fallen short in consecutive weeks to Melbourne-based sides but could be in with a chance against the lowly Taipans.

Lamar Patterson has well and truly found his groove and will be hoping to be at his damaging best against Cairns to notch up another win for his side. he averages 13.75 points and 4.58 rebounds making him a dominant force for the Bullets alongside Nathan Sobey who tops the side with 21.35 points. Matthew Hodgson is the other to keep an eye out for in this clash while Harry Froling and Jason Cadee are capable of stepping up to the plate averaging 7.45 and 9.58 points respectively with the former also strong off the boards thanks to his average of five rebounds. When looking at the Cairns line-up and it is hard to go past Scott Machado who was back to his damaging best last game producing 17 points, nine assists and four rebounds. Majok Deng is also handy on the scoreboard boasting an average of 11.38 points and 4.88 rebounds while Mirko Djeric is quite capable of applying the heat both in offence and defence. Veteran Nate Jawai will need to step up to the plate as will Mojave King who has shown glimpses of magic but is yet to find consistency.

Perth Wildcats vs. Sydney Kings
Thursday, May 27 @9:30pm

It is set to be a blockbuster game as the second placed Wildcats host the fifth placed Sydney Kings who are looking for their way into the top four. They have a rich history having competed in the grand final last year and Perth will be hoping to once again reign supreme and build some strong momentum heading into the upcoming finals.

It will be a battle of the two guards as Bryce Cotton and Casper Ware go into bat for their respective sides. Cotton is unstoppable when given time and space to impact the play credit to his average of 23.47 points and 5.69 assists while Ware is equally as important for the Kings often acting as the barometer for his side thanks to his 18.59 points and 4.44 rebounds. John Mooney has been a reliable source of both points and rebounds for the Wildcats throughout season 2021 draining 17.7 points and accumulating 11.52 rebounds and will need to be at that high level of production if they are to knock off the Kings. Another handy option is Todd Blanchfield alongside Mitchell Norton with the former averaging 14.69 points each time he steps out on court. Jarell Martin continues to be a key cog for the Kings averaging 17.46 points and 6.92 rebounds while the likes of Xavier Cooks and Jordan Hunter will have to up the ante in order to compete with the second placed Wildcats.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Illawarra Hawks
Friday, May 28 @5:30pm

Ever since they returned home to New Zealand, the Breakers have been a new and improved side playing with confidence and although they have only notched up one win in their past five outings they are capable of ruffling some feathers. The Hawks on the other hand have the reverse with one loss in their past five outings, showcasing the stark difference in form between the two sides.

The combination of Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup will be the one the Breakers look to crack straight away given their ability to score quickly and freely. Harvey leads the side with 19.84 points while Jessup boasts an average of 13.94 points and a marginally higher rebound average of  3.84. Cameron Bairstow is not to be underestimated, able to get in and ply his trade while Sam Froling, Justin Simon and Andrew Ogilvy a couple of handy figures when it comes to mounting scoreboard pressure. For the Breakers the likes of Tai Webster and Finn Delany will have to be on their A-game if they are any chance of worrying the Hawks. Webster is capable of making great things happen as shown by his average of 17.29 points, 4.92 rebounds and 5.38 assists while Delany is also a pocket rocket credit to his 6.74 rebounds. Since joining the side, Levi Randolph has not skipped a beat producing an average of 14.6 points each time he steps out on court.

Other games:

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs. Cairns Taipans
Saturday, May 29 @5:30pm

South East Melbourne play their first game of the round against Cairns Taipans who are set to play their second in as many days. Travelling down to Melbourne, expect fatigue to be somewhat of a factor when the Taipans take on the Phoenix who will be raring to go and eager to solidify their standings on the ladder.

Taking a look at the Phoenix side and it is fair to say they are littered with talent but are searching for that level of consistency. Boasting the likes of Mitch Creek, Ryan Broekhoff, Keifer Sykes and the new and improved Kyle Adnam there is no shortage of shooting options. But it just comes down to what level of output each player is having given, Creek can star both in and attack as shown by his 18.23 points and 6.5 rebounds. Throw in the likes of Cameron Gliddon, Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore and the Phoenix have a pretty complete list that should be able to get over the top of the Taipans.

Sydney Kings vs. Melbourne United
Saturday, May 29 @8:00pm

Melbourne United will be hoping to keep the good times rolling and register another win when they take on Sydney. It will be the Kings second game in three days, meaning that United will be looking to capitalise on their tired opponents and exploit them with their level of depth. Sitting on top of the ladder Melbourne will stop at nothing to secure a win and lock down the prime position.

Melbourne United will be hoping that Chris Goulding picks up where he left off, with his hot hand from down town last match doing a world of damage. Goulding has been in scintillating form of late, spurring his side on but will need support from the likes of Jock Landale who is no slouch himself (16.1 points, 7.84 rebounds) and Scotty Hopson (11.58 points and 3.79 rebounds) if they are to get over the line. United have a wealth of depth as Mitch McCarron and Jo Lual-Acuil have stepped up to the plate with their drive to the rim. In recent weeks, Shea Ili and Yudai Baba have chimed in for some handy points and will need to be at that level once again here against the highly competitive Kings.

Illawarra Hawks vs. Adelaide 36ers
Sunday, May 30 @3:00pm

Adelaide will enjoy an extended break before taking the court for the first time on Sunday. But they will have their work cut out for them up against the Illawarra Hawks who are fighting to keep their spot inside the top four. Although the Hawks will be gearing up for their second game of the round and the 36ers first expect a tough battle with neither side wanting to drop a game so close to finals.

Daniel Johnson has been the main man in focus for Adelaide given his capacity to find the scoreboard averaging 19.88 points and 6.94 rebounds. The return of Isaac Humphries has been beneficial for Adelaide given his proficiency on the scoreboard with an average of 13.32 points and 7.11 rebounds. Tony Crocker has been a real livewire for the 36ers while Sunday Dech has played a strong support role and will need to once again be that figure against the Hawks.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Brisbane Bullets
Sunday, May 30 @ 5:00pm

The battle between the Breakers and Bullets is set to be an enthralling one given New Zealand are quite capable of causing an upset. Although the Bullets are ahead on the ladder they have to make the trek across the trans-Tasman to play their second game of the round meaning fatigue could become a factor. The Breakers will be hoping to give their home crowd something to cheer about with a win over the Bullets, while Brisbane will be wanting to keep that glimmer of finals hopes alive.

Melbourne United vs. Cairns Taipans
Monday, May 31 @7:30pm

Cairns will front up for their third game of the round and the challenge is monumental as they take on the current ladder leaders, Melbourne United who have been in scintillating form for much of 2021. United will be hoping to use their bench depth to expose the Taipans who are somewhat undermanned and lacking in terms of form given they are planted firmly to the bottom of the ladder.

Photo credit: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

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.

Melbourne return the favour, clinch postseason berth against Perth

EXACTING a bit of revenge and returning the favour from their last encounter, Melbourne United went to RAC Arena last night and defeated a red-hot Perth Wildcats, 99-91, extending their lead at the top of the NBL ladder in their pursuit of the minor premiership and home court advantage in the finals, as well as being the first team in the NBL to clinch a postseason position.

In a first quarter filled with drama and controversial calls, Chris Goulding lit up RAC Arena to get things underway. Nailing three three-pointers in the opening three minutes, Goulding helped United to an advantageous 19-9 lead causing Trevor Gleeson to call a quick timeout to try and settle his team’s nerves.

Before the visitors could run off with the game in the opening term, a big knock-down three from Bryce Cotton balanced out the scales a bit and after 10 minutes the Wildcats were only down 21-28 to begin the second.

It took a little longer than expected, but Perth’s duo of Cotton and John Mooney started to make an impact. The game briefly became tied with three minutes remaining in the half, before Shea Ili weaved his way in for a layup and Yudai Baba converted his own And-One.

Melbourne went into the main break with a modest 51-46 lead after a brief scare in the second, making 54 per cent of their shots and fighting their way to a 18-12 lead on the glass in rebounds. For Perth, they took care of the ball well in the initial two periods and made most of their damage down low in the paint on the offensive end, putting 24 of their points on the board in the key.

To best describe the third quarter, you would call it a slug fest as both sides swung momentum either way prior to the fourth. Mitch McCarron and Jock Landale gave all the additional support that United could handle, as Perth tried their best to stay calm and chip away at their deficit.

The visitors were momentarily reassured with an eight-point lead at the final break (76-68), but if there was a team to make the lead change happen at the death, it was the Wildcats by a mile. Goulding had 21 big points leading up to this stage in the game and Dean Vickerman needed to make sure his star shooter continued his good shooting into the fourth and final quarter.

Perth’s faithful continued to hold out for a fourth quarter run, however unfortunately it did not come before the final buzzer with Melbourne holding their heads high in enemy territory as eight-point winners and with 99 points next to their name, the most ever scored by United at RAC Arena.

Somehow Melbourne could not quite figure out how to contain Perth near the rim, giving up 48 points in the paint and allowing the Wildcats to convert on 58 per cent of their two-point opportunities. On the flip side, the visitors were big in their outside shooting, knocking down 40 per cent of their three-point opportunities, as well as being superior in areas such as second chance points (11-9), points from turnovers (20-15) and points off the bench (34-14).

There were no doubts that Goulding had a mission in mind prior to tip off and his numbers showed this last night, as the marquee player put up 26 points and four rebounds along with four threes. Landale finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists while McCarron strung together 14 points and six assists. Baba also made his mark with 11 points.

If the combination of both Cotton and Mooney is a power couple, then the pair’s numbers last night proved just how true that notion is. Cotton’s 24 points and three assists were nothing to sneeze at last night despite the loss, but Mooney’s 24 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals were purely awesome for those in attendance. Mitchell Norton played well in the starting role with 12 points and three rebounds, meanwhile Todd Blanchfield was relatively absent with only nine points under his belt.

Perth can jump back into contention for top spot given the limited time left in the season if they can topple the Brisbane Bullets in Queensland tomorrow afternoon and possibly cement their top two position if results fall favourably across the league this weekend. For United, they look to make their crosstown rival South East Melbourne Phoenix’s path to the postseason a little bit more difficult, when the Throwdown takes place at John Cain Arena on Sunday.

2021 NBL Round 16 preview: United to triple up over the weekend

IT is going to be a mammoth round of basketball for Melbourne United as they take the court three times across Round 16 of the National Basketball League (NBL). A win, loss or draw from the top of the table side could alter the ladder with Perth Wildcats hot on their heels as the season winds down. The Hawks, Phoenix and Kings are the only sides to take the court once this round with the rest all making multiple appearances throughout the round.

Melbourne United vs. New Zealand Breakers
Wednesday, April 28 @7:30pm

Melbourne United are coming in hot boasting a nine game winning streak and will be hoping to maintain that streak with a win over the Breakers. New Zealand on the other hand are coming in off a strong win against a marginally higher opponent and therefore will be full of belief. That being said the Breakers will well and truly be the underdogs heading into the clash given they are facing off against the top of the table United who have showcased their class and level of depth to win under all sorts of pressure.

Untied have a plethora of options when it comes to scoring with Jock Landale and Chris Goulding arguably the power duo for the side. the duo produce an average of 16.46 and 15.72 points a game while the likes of Mitch McCarron and Scotty Hopson are other key facilitators with the latter hoping to improve his output after a quiet performance last game. Finn Delany is coming off an inspired effort in Round 15 and will be hoping to keep the good times rolling while Corey Webster is another livewire for the trans-Tasman side producing 15.56 points each time he steps out on court. Levi Randolph is starting to find his feet while Tom Abercrombie is the gift that keeps on giving but will need to be on his a-game if the Breakers are to win.

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs. Brisbane Bullets
Thursday, April 29 @7:30pm

It has been an up and down season to say the least for both sides with the Phoenix currently holding onto fourth spot on the ladder after dropping from third while the Bullets sit just outside the top four in sixth with 10 wins to their name. this clash will bring plenty of excitement and intensity as South East Melbourne look to remain inside the top four and the Bullets hope to stay in touch to keep their finals hopes alive.

With Mitch Creek at the helm and the likes of Keifer Sykes and Ryan Broekhoff also in the side, the Phoenix have the star power to dominate just need to find that level of consistency. Kyle Adnam has emerged as a real game changer and will be hoping to bring that level of intensity in this clash averaging 13 points and 3.88 assists a game. If Ben Moore and Yannick Wetzell are also able to get off the leash then it could spell trouble for the Bullets. Nathan Sobey has been electric for the Bullets, leading from the front with his 22.52 point average while Lamar Patterson has made a splash since defecting from the Breakers producing 11 points 5.5 rebounds a game. Matthew Hodgson and Anthony Drmic will need to get busy if they are to topple the Phoenix.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Perth Wildcats
Saturday, May 1 @5:30pm

The Breakers will take to the court for the second time in as many days and their job does not get any easier coming up against the second placed Perth Wildcats. It will be a tight turnaround for New Zealand having played on Wednesday night and the Wildcats will be hoping to capitalise on the fatiguing and lower placed side. Perth have struggled for continuity in the last couple of games and will be eager to iron out any kinks in their armour and put out a complete performance.

Bryce Cotton is the go-to man for the Wildcats averaging a competition high 24.29 points a game while teammate John Mooney is the other to keep an eye out for with his double-double average of 16.96 points and 12.04 rebounds. Todd Blanchfield, Jesse Wagstaff and Mitchell Norton also provide great support and will be hoping to fire in their contest against the Breakers. While for New Zealand it will be the old firm in Webster and Delany that will need to get going.

Adelaide 36ers vs. Brisbane Bullets
Saturday, May 1 @8:00pm

It has been a rough couple of weeks for the 36ers who despite regaining a couple of their stars in Tony Crocker and Isaac Humphries have struggled to find their groove. However up against the Bullets who have also been relatively inconsistent this could be their time to shine and claim a much needed win. Both sides sit on 10 wins apiece, with the win-loss status dependent on Brisbane’s result earlier in the round making for an exciting battle.

Josh Giddey took the competition by storm recording a triple double and becoming the youngest Australian in the league to do so. With his production levels high he will be hoping to replicate these odds while the return of Isaac Humphries is exciting and will provide additional scoring options for the 36ers. Daniel Johnson averages 20.65 points and 7.04 rebounds while Tony Crocker is also a livewire for Adelaide.

Melbourne United vs. Sydney Kings
Sunday, May 2 @3:00pm

In their second game for the round, expect Melbourne United to come out with a real sense of urgency and use their bench depth to get on top of the Kings. However Sydney have a point to prove and will be out to improve their standings on the ladder to create some ladder separation and secure themselves in third. The two sides have a rich history so expect plenty of fireworks as they fight it out for bragging rights, keeping in mind that United have to front up for their third game latter this round while the Kings can afford to leave nothing in the tank as this is their sole outing.

Boasting the likes of Casper Ware, United will have their work cut out when it comes to nullifying his explosiveness averaging 19.19 points a game while teammate Jarrell Martin is the other handful given his capacity to score with ease averaging 17. 11 points and 6.89 rebounds a match. With no Dejan Vasiljevic and Didi Louzada the Kings will be looking for support from Jordan Hunter and Brad Newley to overcome Melbourne United who will be seeking assistance from the likes of Yudai Baba and Jo Lual-Acuil.

New Zealand Breakers vs. Illawarra Hawks
Monday, May 3 @7:30pm

Monday nights clash will be the Hawks’ first and last for the round while it is a different story for the Breakers who will be gearing up for their third. the Hawks dropped out of the top four, currently sitting two games shy but a win here keeps them within striking distance as the season approaches the backend. For the Breakers their inconsistency and poor start to the season hurt them and after two games against top two opposition have their work cut out for them here against the fifth placed Hawks.

The combination of Tyler Harvey and Justinian Jessup has worked wonders for the Hawks with the pair able to find the basket and keep the scoreboard ticking over thanks to their respective averages of 19.56 points and 14.68 points. Cameron Bairstow is one who has flown under the radar this season as has Sam Froling but if the two can get busy then it could spell danger for the Breakers. In their sole game for the round expect Justin Simon to also get busy and ply his trade while the Breakers look to the experience of Abercrombie to lead from the front.

Adelaide 36ers vs. Cairns Taipans
Tuesday, May 4 @7:30pm

A battle of the bottom sides commences on Tuesday night as the Adelaide 36ers go head-to-head with the Cairns Taipans. The Taipans clash with the Phoenix was cancelled meaning the side will be well rested heading into their match against Adelaide. Neither side have been in arguably great form holding seventh and ninth place respectively but that does not mean it won’t be a cracking game of basketball as they look to find a winning edge.

With no more Cameron Oliver it is up to Scott Machado to carry the load and lead from the front in what is set to be a gruelling match. Machado averages 16.36 points, 3.52 rebounds and 7.12 assists but will need support from the likes of Majok Deng and Kouat Noi if they are to challenge the Adelaide 36ers.

Melbourne United vs. Perth Wildcats
Wednesday, May 5 @7:30pm  

A top two clash between Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats is a fitting way to end Round 16 as the two sides battle it out for more than bragging rights but so too ladder position. In saying that, United will have played one more game than their counterparts meaning it will be battle of which team can outlast the other and the level of depth both sides have. If the wildcats are able to capitalise on the fatigued United outfit it will go a long way in securing them the win. However Melbourne do not give up easily and with finals surely approaching expect them to leave nothing to chance.

Boasting the likes of Goulding and Landale the Wildcats will be hoping to shut down their signature style of play and reduce their opportunities to attack the rim. Expect Lual-Acuil to be big off the boards while McCarron and Hopson are lethal with ball in hand. For the Wildcats there is no denying that Cotton and Mooney are the game changers but will need support from Blanchfield if they are to get over the top.

Cotton and Mooney trounce the Bullets, Perth continue chase for top spot

A STRONG start and an even better finish was responsible for the Perth Wildcats’ 92-74 win over the Brisbane Bullets last night, with the hosts securing a tied league-best eighteenth win of the season, putting them half a game back of Melbourne United for top spot in the standings.

Even in front of a modestly sized crowd at RAC Arena, the Wildcats ran the Bullets off the floor in the opening quarter with a 20-9 performance helped along by Mitchell Norton being the player to watch in the first 10 minutes of play. After leading by 14 points at one stage in the first, Brisbane did well to fight all the way back to within a single point at the middle stages of the second quarter. However, Bryce Cotton started to make his mark on the game along with John Mooney extending their lead out to six points with a couple of minutes left in the initial half of play.

Ultimately leading 45-36 at the main break, Perth finished the first half in relatively good form as they were shooting at a solid 45 per cent from the field. The Bullets on the other hand fell below 30 per cent in shooting during the first two quarter, making just 11 of their 37 attempts prior to the third term.

Despite making five threes compared to Perth’s two, Brisbane was inferior in almost every other aspect of the game, meaning that another strong half by the Wildcats would see another win go into the pockets of the defending champions, unless Andrej Lemanis could string together another strong run like the one in the middle of the second stanza. Perth threatened to pull away in the third pushing their lead out to 18, but before the Bullets would throw in the towel the combined work of Harry Froling, Nathan Sobey and Lamar Patterson sparked an 11-0 run to head into three-quarter time, capped off by a triple from Anthony Drmic on the buzzer.

As close as the Bullets were threatening to get, Perth’s continuous grind-type of playstyle was proving too much for the Bullets. To make matters worse, Sobey found himself with five fouls and a disqualification with less than two minutes to play. Being up by 14 points, the home side could then walk their way to the finish line concluding the meeting as 18-point winners.

The Wildcats shot the ball exquisitely at 47 per cent as the Bullets were sluggish to get the ball off their shoulder shooting the rock at 36 per cent. While Brisbane gave away one less turnover, that was the team’s only success in terms of statistics. Every other category fell the way of the Wildcats which included the dominating numbers on the boards with Perth earning 48 rebounds and 35 bench points over Brisbane’s 39 and 23.

Once again, Cotton finished on top in scoring with 21 points, six assists and four rebounds next to Mooney, who was massive on the glass with 16 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Norton had a rather quiet second half as he notched up 11 points, five rebounds and five assists, while Jesse Wagstaff compiled a 12-point and six-rebound performance.

Off the bench, Froling ended up being the main scorer for Coach Lemanis’ squad, concluding the night with 20 points and three rebounds. On another note, Patterson’s quiet return since recovering from injury is officially over following his 19 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of steals. Sobey finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists, as Drmic contributed 11 points, three rebounds and three assists.

Brisbane will need to bounce back as the loss suffered last night has the potential to permanently derail their season, unless the Bullets can rectify yesterday’s outcome by defeating the South East Melbourne Phoenix next week. Perth awaits news regarding who they face next and when, due to the state’s three-day COVID-19 lockdown.

Picture credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Watch out, the Wildcats are coming!

BEFORE their opening NBL Cup matchup on February 20 against Melbourne United, the Perth Wildcats had a rather unremarkable record of two wins and three losses. With this average start, the West Australian side sat as low as seventh up until the beginning of Round 6 and were in desperate need of positive results.

Today, the Wildcats sit second on both the NBL season ladder (six wins and three losses) and first on the NBL Cup ladder (four wins and zero losses), as Trevor Gleeson and his squad have re-emerged from the depths of the NBL’s bottom end and are looking to continue their dominance over the course of the season leading into finals.

Looking back at the Wildcats’ last four outings and performances in the NBL Cup, we first take a glance at their statement win over the league leading Melbourne side that was unbeaten in eight games to begin their campaign.

It was a major upset to United, given that many would not have pegged Perth to bounce back and beat the top side in the NBL after having suffered their worst defeat in three years. But Perth managed to do just that, setting in motion their exemplary form leading up to this point, thanks primarily to MVP Bryce Cotton’s 22 points and seven assists (22 points in the second half).

Having just earned his 250th win, Perth’s head coach was ready to keep the momentum going and quickly got ahead of the franchise’s worst start in eight years, sitting at .500 with three wins from six contests.

Three days later and next up on the agenda for Perth were their Grand Final opponents from last season, the Sydney Kings. To make things more dire for the defending champions prior to their contest, was the fact that Cotton was not guaranteed to participate as a result of an illness earlier in the week.

Thankfully for Perth fans, their leader made a last-minute recovery just in time as he strolled his way to a mammoth 30 points and nine assists, with Perth assuming control of the contest in the third quarter off the back of a 32-17 run. Meanwhile, John Mooney continued to do what he had been doing all season with 30 points and 16 rebounds, and Todd Blanchfield was proving to be a player that the Wildcats could rely on to play well if they were to topple a high-quality side like the Kings.

Perth continued their impressive list of accomplishments in their quest for the NBL Cup and their fight back to the top of the regular season standings by knocking off the final team from last season’s semi-finals, the Cairns Taipans, holding the Queensland side to their lowest scoring total of NBL21.

Led once again by the trio of Cotton, Mooney and Blanchfield, Perth’s 89 to 69 win over the Taipans extended their winning streak to three games and in that same amount of time the Wildcats had not only improved to a record of five wins and three losses, but they had also now risen up the standings to a commanding second seed and were now hot on the heels of the formidable Melbourne United roster.

To end the recap of this new-look Wildcats side over their last four encounters, it was a nail-biter to put it lightly last night, with South East Melbourne unable to slow the roll of the red and black. Simon Mitchell and his outfit went down to Perth by a single point following a buzzer beating attempt by Kyle Adnam that failed go down.

In hindsight it was a gallant performance by the Phoenix, but Perth’s dominance in the paint was too assertive at the State Basketball Centre, winning the category 40 to 26 and allowing the defending champions to put themselves in the driver’s seat. A common trend that the Wildcats have utilised in their recent run of victories and also a trend they will need to continue into the foreseeable future.

Suiting up again tonight with four outings remaining in Melbourne for the NBL Cup, Perth’s major challenge coming up against the Brisbane Bullets will most likely occur in the backcourt when they face off with the one-two punch combination of Nathan Sobey and Vic Law. Sobey, who ranks second in the NBL amongst top scorers (23.4 points per game) and Law who ranks seventh (19.7 points per game), will be Brisbane’s best hope for an upset win over the Wildcats. However, if Cotton and his supporting cast of guards and wings including the likes of Mitchell Norton and Luke Travers can play a consistent brand of basketball, then the Bullets may find themselves in a bit of strife and become the latest victim in Perth’s mid-season rampage.

The remainder of Perth’s NBL Cup fixture reads as follows:
vs Brisbane Bullets – Friday March 5
vs Illawarra Hawks – Sunday March 7
vs New Zealand Breakers – Friday March 12
vs Adelaide 36ers – Sunday March 14

While it took a while for the Wildcats to hit the ground running in comparison to other sides, they are certainly doing so now. Furthermore, they now sit in the upper echelon when it comes to being championship favourites and the broader NBL fan supporter base is excited to see just how much of a realisation Perth’s quest for a three-peat really is.

Cotton and Mooney star in Perth’s grand final rematch

IT was a scoring fiasco for Sydney Kings and Perth Wildcats however it was the latter that walked away with the “W” (113-106). Both sides came to play with their intensity up from the first few minutes of basketball as they looked to attack the rim and claim some much needed ascendancy to close out Round 6 of the National Basketball League (NBL).

In their first meeting since the 2020 grand final the rivalry well and truly came to the fore as the two sides battled bragging rights with the Kings coming up big in the opening term of play. Although Perth slotted the first points of the game Sydney seemed to have the game on their terms as the quarter went on with Casper Ware putting on a vintage performance and inspiring the Kings each step of the way. Holding a six-point lead at quarter time, Perth worked in overdrive to cut the deficit and get back in the game piling on 30 points while limiting the Kings to 26. Shutting down their movement and looking to attack the basket more regularly Perth were able to generate some strong momentum with Bryce Cotton stepping up to the plate.

With only two points separating the two sides, it was clear that this game was going to go down to the wire and while neither the Wildcats or Kings have had the same dominance they did last year they were eager to recapture some form. An excellent term of basketball from Perth was all they needed to not only steal the lead but create a handy buffer. John Mooney was the key instigator of change for the Wildcats nailing a layup to commence play and maintained that level of intensity throughout the term. Letting loose with 32 points to 17 Perth went into the final change up by 13 points and did not look like letting go despite Ware making his presence felt for the Kings. Sydney worked their way back into the contest playing with a sense of freedom and determination but could not do enough to topple the Wildcats who had built a strong foundation in the third to run out victorious.

Statistically speaking it was hard to split the two sides with Sydney sitting at 51 per cent from the field and Perth at 50 per cent and while they both boasted a 40 per cent accuracy from beyond the arc the Wildcats managed 15 triples compared to 14. Perth showcased their strength off the boards outmuscling their opponents to collect 46 rebounds to 32 while their natural game plan of sharing the ball around was also on display amassing 26 assists to 14. Although they fell short of the win the Kings proved to be more cautious with ball in hand only recording six turnovers to eight and also registered one more block (4-3). Majority of Sydney’s points came from in the paint knocking back 42 while the Wildcats put up 34.

It was the Casper Ware show for Sydney with the guard running amuck and posting a team-high 34 points going at 100 per cent from the charity stripe and 52 per cent from the field. Ware was involved in just about everything for the Kings picking up five rebounds and four assists. Didi Louzada was the next biggest contributor for Sydney piling on 19 points and making his presence felt from down town with five triples. Dejan Vasiljevic and Thomas Vodanovich also proved to be handy figures collecting 13 and 10 points respectively while also dragging down four rebounds apiece.

With Ware doing it up one end for the Kings, Cotton flexed his muscles with 30 points and fell just short of a double-double credit to his nine assists. But teammate, Mooney did manage to reach this feat with a staggering 18 rebounds and 30 points to well and truly wow the opposition. Mooney was virtually unstoppable in defence with 16 of his 18 rebounds defensive while also coming up with two blocks. Todd Blanchfield was a consistent figure throughout the match producing 17 points, three rebounds and two assists as Mitchell Norton did not muck around thanks to his 10 points and eight rebounds.

Overcoming a half time deficit is never easy as Perth Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson pointed out post-match, touting the impressive effort the side put in to flip the script.

“I thought it was a really gutsy win especially with how well they were shooting the ball in the first half. We had to wrestle that momentum back and I thought we did that just before half time I think about five minutes to go then we got it back to two points at half time so we built some momentum for the third quarter,” Gleeson said.

2021 NBL Top Performers to Round 5: Perth/South East Melbourne/Sydney

THE final part of our three-part series looking at the National Basketball League’s (NBL) top performers to Round 5 before the NBL Cup tips off, we focus on Perth Wildcats, South East Melbourne Phoenix and Sydney Kings.

Perth Wildcats

Wins: 2
Losses: 3
Position: 7th

Despite a difficult season MVP winner, Bryce Cotton has continued his merry way on the points scoring front recording a whopping average of 22.6 points. Although not the most accurate shooter sitting at 45 per cent from the field and 35 per cent from long range Cotton is Perth’s lynchpin. He also averages seven assists, 3.6 rebounds  and 2.2 steals a game.

Newcomer John Mooney has also stepped up to the plate for the Wildcats this season posting an average of 16.8 points across his 31 minutes on court while also registering double-double figures thanks to his 11.4 rebounds. Mooney is a real competitor across all areas of the court with the forward averaging two assists, 1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks a game.

Another dominant force for Perth has been Todd Blanchfield with the 30-year-old able to generate 13 points each time he steps out on court while also amassing 3.8 rebounds, two assists and one steal, highlighting his overall versatility and consistency.

Other top performers consist of Mitchell Norton, Jesse Wagstaff and Luke Travers. Norton has proven to be a steady stream of points with an average of 8.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists while Wagstaff has produced an average of 7.8 points.

South East Melbourne Phoenix

Wins: 4
Losses: 4
Position: 4th

It is no surprise that superstar Mitch Creek has impressed for South East Melbourne Phoenix with the captain showcasing his scoring prowess to lead the side with 18.5 points. Shooting at 56 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from beyond the arc, Creek has made a name for himself with his reliability. He also averages seven rebounds and 3.13 assists a game along with per steal a game.

American import Keifer Sykes has wasted no time impacting the NBL and leading the Phoenix to a number of victories with his explosiveness and sheer athleticism. Sykes is a real playmaker for South East Melbourne as shown through his average of 18 points, 4.63 rebounds and seven assists while also mustering up 1.13 steals.

It has been somewhat of a coming of age season for Kyle Adnam putting out an average of 10.38 points a game to accompany his 1.63 rebounds and 1.75 assists. Although he does not register a wealth of court time as shown through his 20 minutes on court, his ability to hit the scoreboard is undeniable.

The Phoenix have a number of other key contributors that have assisted with their current ladder position as Yannick Wetzell consistently chimes in with an average of 10.38 points while Ben Moore has also proven to be handy to keep the scoreboard ticking over through his 9.25 points and 8.63 rebounds a game.

 

Sydney Kings:

Wins: 3
Losses: 4
Position: 5th

Livewire Casper Ware is a real lynchpin for the Kings and while it has not been the season they would have hoped for, Ware is still up to his old tricks. Boasting an average of 20 points a game and a 42 per cent conversion rate Ware leads the way for Sydney while also accumulating 2.29 rebounds, 3.29 assists and 1.29 steals.

Partner in crime Jarell Martin has also found his groove for the Kings sinking up with the likes of Ware to produce 18.75 points and an impressive 7.14 rebounds showcasing his overall dominance. Martin has been a key inclusion for the side this season after a number of key cogs departed at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Dejan Vasiljevic has well and truly stepped up a level in 2021 sinking an average of 17 points over his seven games. Not the most accurate shooter sitting at 44 per cent from the field and 37 from the perimeter, Vasiljevic is a consistent performer who also manages 3.29 rebounds and two assists a game showcasing his ability to impact in other areas.

Experienced figure Brad Newley is another role player for the Kings knocking back 10.86 points a game along with 5.29 rebounds while Shaun Bruce is handy with ball in hand credit to his 4.86 assists and 5.86 points.

Melbourne United prevail in come-from-behind win against Perth Wildcats

THE National Basketball League (NBL) battle between Melbourne United and Perth Wildcats continued last night with the game once again going down to the wire as United prevailed in the tight tussle (75-71). There was not much separating the two sides throughout the entire contest as they locked horns and the lead ebbed and flowed. But in the end, United found that extra gear to run it home and steal top spot collecting their fourth straight win.

It was blow for blow in the opening term with both sides trying to gain some rhythm and settle into the contest. Perth landed the first blow, opening the scoring account before Melbourne answered, with that dance continuing for much of the game. The Wildcats established a slim one point lead heading into quarter time and steadily increased that margin by the time half time came around boasting a five point lead thanks to a 28 to 24-point term.

Down by five points at the main change, United came out with a renewed sense of intensity and purpose with everything seeming to kick into gear. With increased defensive pressure and a new found ability to hit the scoreboard Melbourne managed to work their way back into the contest and flip the script and get to level pegging by three-quarter time. Their desperation and commitment continued in the final term, notching up 19 points and keeping the Wildcats to 15 as they skipped away to a strong come-from-behind four point victory.

It all came down to shooting accuracy with United flexing their muscles and making the most of their opportunities sitting at 49 per cent from the field compared to Perth’s lowly 34 per cent. It was a similar tale from two point range with United making 21 of their 34 attempts at an impressive 61 per cent while Perth struggled to find their radar only sinking 16 of 38 attempts at 42 per cent. Melbourne also had the upper hand when it came to accuracy from down town boasting a record of 32 per cent compared to 24. However when it came to dominance at the charity stripe, Perth had all the answers going along at a 85 per cent clip as opposed to 69 per cent.

Although the scoring was in favour of United, rebounds, assists, steals and turnovers all leant to Perth highlighting the overall closeness of the contest. The Wildcats showcased their strength off the boards dragging down 42 compared to 34 while Perth’s ability to share around the ball was on show registering 16 assists to 13. The Wildcats’ slick hands and read of the play also caused havoc recording nine steals to four while their cleanliness also shone true with 12 turnovers to 14.

Melbourne showed that they have a number of options that are capable of keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Although it was not the familiar faces that stepped up to the plate the win signifies the impressive level of depth United have as Jock Landale topscored with 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. Mitch McCarron was also handy chiming in with his 13 points at 62 per cent from the field while also amassing two rebounds, one assist and a steal. Yudai Baba was the only other United player to register double-figure points thanks to his 14 points, three rebounds and two assists. Dynamic duo Scotty Hopson and Jack White also added to their sides tally with nine and seven points respectively with the latter also walking away with eight rebounds, seven of which were defensive.

There were two main targets for Perth and it is no surprise that one of them was none other than Bryce Cotton. The guard was once again in scintillating form knocking back 24 points despite sitting at a 45 per cent conversion rate. He also managed seven rebounds and six assists in an all-round strong performance. Teammate John Mooney also stepped up to the plate sinking 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Mitchell Norton secured 11 points in his 22 minutes on court. Clint Steindl added a handy seven points to the total but it was not enough to get his side over the line.