Tag: Perth Wildcats

Perth defeat New Zealand for first time in 2021

THE final game of Round 17 went the way of Perth Wildcats as they toppled the lowly New Zealand Breakers by 14-points (98-84). But it was no easy feat as the Wildcats were forced to work in overdrive as the Breakers dug deep to compete hard and give themselves a chance to cause yet another upset, having won their past two encounters.

The Breakers were the only side that the Wildcats were yet to win against in season 2021 but now that feat has been ticked off  putting them in greater stead for finals. The loss unfortunately hinders the chances of New Zealand making finals, even though it was a long shot to begin with, while they were further hurt as captain Tom Abercrombie left the court injured with a suspected hamstring injury.

Both sides came out with a point to prove in the first quarter as the two main cogs in Bryce Cotton for the Wildcats and Abercrombie for New Zealand led the charge. The two engaged in a bit of give and take as they looked to generate some momentum for their respective side. Neither player had an issue sinking them from range with scores level midway through the term at 12 apiece. Cotton had a hot hand shooting at 80 per cent and before you knew it the American import had a whopping 16 points to his name in the first quarter alone while teammate John Mooney also got involved in the action. The Wildcats stretched out to a 10-point lead as they looked to run away with the game before the ever-reliable Finn Delany chimed in with consecutive triple to restore some respectability to the scoreline.

Only four points separated the two sides at quarter time and having wrestled momentum back the Breakers came out with strong intentions. William McDowell-White asserted himself quickly into the thick of things with a handy triple to cull the margin to a mere point. Perth once again rallied, this time through the services of Jesse Wagstaff while Cotton also chimed in, continuing his impressive start. Both sides traded blows throughout the second quarter with neither team able to break away from the other as sloppiness and an inability to finish plays crept into the game.

The third quarter favoured the home side as the Wildcats showcased their class and smarts to play the ball around and not rush. They managed to withstand the assaults that the Breakers threw at them to just grind out the game as Todd Blanchfield stood up to the task. Blanchfield got a feel for things early in the term and was a real barometer for the side as he looked to create some much needed scoreboard separation. Perth piled on 20 points to 13 to establish a nine point lead heading into the final change.

Scoring the first six points of the term it looked like the game was won and done but some magic from the Breakers saw them back within contention. Nailing consecutive triples enabled New Zealand to cut the margin to single digits with Tai Webster getting busy but quickly fouled out of the game. He was not alone on the bench as Delany joined him moments later and then of course injury struck with Abercrombie hobbling off. All in all, Perth showed their grit and determination to hustle hard and impose themselves on the competition once more.

Cotton took centre stage in the win posting another double-double thanks to his game-high 32 points, 10 assists and five rebounds. Mooney was hot on his heels draining 27 points at an impressive 84 per cent while also recording eight rebounds and four assists. Mitch Norton was the only other player to reach double-digits posting 10 points for the game. Wagstaff worked tirelessly for his five points and eight rebounds, seven of which were defensive. Delany was once again the standout for the Breakers walking away with 21 points, three rebounds and three assists as Webster got busy with 20 points and seven rebounds of his own. Abercrombie was reliable as per usual nailing 12 points while Rasmus Bach also produced 11 points and four assists in the loss.

United may have lost to the Wildcats, but are they still top dogs?

AS far as winning streaks go, Melbourne United’s 11-game victory run between Rounds 10 and 16 was a very respectable track record to have heading into the postseason. But following Wednesday night’s outcome between United and the Perth Wildcats, Melbourne’s moniker as clear-cut favourites is being threatened.

Dean Vickerman’s side suffered a 28-point drubbing to the Sydney Kings on March 19, and since then Melbourne has been simply unstoppable at both home and on the road.

With their first triumph of the double-digit winning streak coming at home against the Illawarra Hawks, Melbourne then conquered back-to-back fixtures against the New Zealand Breakers and cross-town rivals the South East Melbourne Phoenix before knocking over the Cairns Taipans in a home and away fixture in Round 12.

After defeating the Breakers and the Hawks once again, as well as the Brisbane Bullets in Rounds 13 and 14, United had a singular outing in Round 15. This game would see Melbourne squeeze out a hard-fought win over an Adelaide 36ers roster that is in the midst of pursuing a top four spot and a postseason berth, 92-78, extending their winning streak to nine games.

Most recently in Round 16, United participated in a three-game week matching up against the Breakers, Kings, and the Wildcats all at home. Melbourne looked sublime nine days ago, convincingly blowing by New Zealand with a double-digit win to start off the round. Four days would go by before Melbourne exacted a bit of revenge over their long-time foes in Sydney, demolishing the finals contenders by a mountainous 25 points and logging their eleventh straight win on the trot.

The main event, however, would be saved for the last matchup of the Round 16 fixtures with Melbourne hosting the two-time defending NBL champion Wildcats, who were in desperate need of a bounce back win.

Both teams had split their first two meetings of the NBL21 season, but Melbourne were the first to land a punch on Wednesday night leading after quarter time. Being led by their star pickup in the offseason, John Mooney, Perth quickly picked up steam and never looked back. Scoring 20 points more than Melbourne in the latter three quarters (70-50), Bryce Cotton, despite his recent shooting slump, helped the Wildcats to end United’s impressive winning streak winning 82-69, snapping their opponents’ run of success at 11 games and preventing them from reaching the dozen mark.

The win by Perth called many into question just how likely Melbourne are to make it through two postseason series. As it stands, United (21 wins and six losses) currently hold the two-and-a-half-game lead at the top of the ladder over the Wildcats (19 wins and seven losses), but with the two teams to meet at least two more times, home court advantage still hangs in the balance for the NBL’s premiere outfits.

Looking to get the Victorian side there, is Melbourne’s captain and leader Chris Goulding. Averaging 15.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists and over three triples, the 32-year-old is also shooting the lights out with his field goal percentage at 42 per cent, his three-point success rate at 40 per cent and 90 per cent from the free throw line. If Goulding can continue his spectacular run of form in this second half of the season, United can re-establish their superiority in the standings as a reward from his good play.

Backed by the vast talent of Jock Landale, Goulding has a supporting cast that is certainly capable of driving this side all the way to a potential championship. For Landale, he is continuing a solid season into the twilight stretches of the campaign. Despite now ranking second in team scoring, the 211-cm Center is totalling at least 15.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game at a 52 per cent shooting rate each time out, he is up there as one of the most efficient scorers in the competition.

Other key contributors keep producing at a high rate, highlighted by individuals such as Scotty Hopson (11.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists) who is now cementing himself within the rotation after some time off with injury, and Mitch McCarron (11 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds) who is yet to miss a game this season with 27 appearances.

Jo Lual-Acuil has been attaining frequent starts on a consistent basis, serving as a twin tower next to Landale and for good reason. Lual-Acuil accumulates double-doubles at will averaging 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 52 per cent shooting as the imposing center completes his second season at United. Excluding those who have been named, Yudai Baba, Shea Ili, David Barlow and Sam McDaniel will get ample opportunity to see out the rest of the regular season to try and secure the minor premiership over the next five rounds.

Speaking of which, Round 17 begins on Saturday for Melbourne when they face off with the Phoenix. United will then square up against the Wildcats again in Round 18 before clashing with Cairns, Illawarra, Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide before the season’s end.

NBL21 is starting to come to a head, and the race for the top spot is ramping up. Whether Melbourne can handle the pressure and secure the coveted home court advantage for finals will be seen in the coming month, unless Perth can pull back the distance between themselves and the league frontrunners.

Picture credit: Melbourne United Twitter

Perth ends Melbourne’s winning streak thanks to dominant second quarter

PERTH Wildcats put a stop to Melbourne United’s winning streak clinching a 13-point victory over the top of the table side away from home. United came to play in the opening quarter, but once the Wildcats found their groove they were hard to stop outscoring their opponents 70 points to 50 in the following three quarters. The win sends a clear warning shot to the rest of the competition, with Perth proving once again what they are capable of doing against a-class talent.

Perth were quick to pile on the scoreboard pressure with John Mooney and Mitch Norton combining seamlessly to steal the lead albeit by one point (8-7). But with a timeout called from United head coach the momentum switched in the opening term as play well and truly favoured the home side as they looked to notch up their 12th consecutive win. United came out with a real pep in their step attacking the basket to go on seven point straight scoring spree with captain Chris Goulding inserting himself in the action with a handy triple.

Establishing a seven-point lead at the break, United were set upon as the Wildcats rallied the troops. Perth were clearly unhappy with the start as they came out with a point to prove sinking nine points straight to steal the lead and claim the ascendancy. Kevin White made his presence felt with a triple and while United worked gallantly to stay in touch with Perth through the likes of Jo Lual-Acuil and the returning Jock Landale, the visitors simply could not be stopped. After a well-disciplined start to the game, United provided a couple of opportunities for Perth to convert from the charity stripe and that they did as they poured on 34 points including a 12-point run to take a 10-point lead at the main break.

The third quarter continued down much of the same route as Perth nailed the first four points of the game to take away and control United had. Although Bryce Cotton had been relatively quiet for the night, he decided it was his time to shine sinking a couple of triples and with support from the likes of Todd Blanchfield and Mooney the Wildcats once again piled on the points this time with a 16 points to six run. The lead blew out to as much as 19 points throughout the term before United worked their way back into the contest. With the win slipping through their fingers the home side threw everything they had at Perth as Yudai Baba got busy to reduce the deficit to 10 points.

With it all to play for in the final stanza, Scotty Hopson stepped up to the plate landing a much needed free throw to trail by nine points. On the edge of a comeback Perth re-kindled their earlier form to control the play and tempo of the game. Mooney was the main-man for the Wildcats as he continuously dragged his side out of the mess and enabled them to forge forward and steal the win. As the quarter went on the momentum well and truly shifted back in favour of the Wildcats as they not only skipped away to a 13-point margin but so too secured the win.

As a whole shooting accuracy seemed to be a problem for both sides, but Perth’s ability convert off the rebound and to nail the second chance points proved to be the difference between the two side.

It was a tough day at the office for the United as only three players managed to hit double-digits when it came to points as Landale top-scored with 11. However, in his debut game back he ran into some foul trouble and was unable to have a huge impact on the game. Goulding struggled for accuracy sitting at a mere 22 per cent from the field for his 10 points while Baba slotted 10 points of his own. Lual-Acuil made a menace of himself off the boards with 10 rebounds and chimed in with a handy eight points as Sam McDaniel also contributed eight points and five assists of his own.

For Perth it was the effort of Mooney that stood head and shoulders above the rest as he recorded another double-double thanks to his 30 points and 14 rebounds in a phenomenal showing. Cotton piled on 16 points despite being inaccurate both from the field and down town but made up for it with his crafty 10 dimes. Blanchfield was next best with nine points as Norton recorded eight points in his 27 minutes on court.

Randolph Breaks Wildcats hearts in stunning upset

NEW Zealand Breakers have stunned the reigning National Basketball League (NBL) back-to-back premiers, knocking off Perth Wildcats by two points in a thrilling finish at Silverdome last night. The Breakers went in as heavy underdogs against the second placed Wildcats, who were keen to catch up to Melbourne United, but instead fall two wins behind after dropping the game to the eighth placed Breakers, 86-84.

The Breakers started the game strongly, racing out to a five-point quarter time lead, but that quickly evaporated as the Wildcats hit back in the second term with 24 points to 18. Now in front by a point, the Wildcats were expected to go on with it, and they did in the third term to an extent, breaking out to a three-point lead at the final change, but never quite shaking the Breakers. Leading by as much as five points in the final quarter the Wildcats could never quite get comfortable, and for a large portion of the tense final moments, the teams were even and looking like heading to overtime.

Instead, with one second left on the clock, Levi Randolph hit a floating two-point jumper to win his side the game in remarkable fashion. Whilst the Wildcats had a timeout and one second on the clock, it was obvious who the ball was going to for the final play, with star shooter Bryce Cotton having a crack at the buzzer beater from long-range but it was not to be, and the Wildcats had to settle for the disappointing two-point loss.

The Breakers were simply more effective on the shooting front, nailing nine of 24 from long-range as the Wildcats went missing from distance, only hitting one of 12 in an uncharacteristic effort. The Breakers were elite from inside the arc, hitting 62 per cent of their shots to the Wildcats’ 55 per cent, as well as having only the six turnovers for the entire match. The Wildcats’ big men still went to town on the inside, picking up 56 points in the paint to the Breakers’ 38, but the long-range shooting and the accurate jump shots helped the home team secure the win.

Randolph finished with 19 points, four assists and two rebounds, and of course the match-winning shot. Tom Abercrombie (14 points, three rebounds) and Tai Webster (12 points, four assists and three rebounds) also reached double-figure points, but it was the evenness of the side as a whole with eight players scoring eight or more points on the night, of the 10 players who got a run on court. Rob Loe (nine points, three rebounds) and Colton Iverson (eight points, five rebounds) were amongst the more prolific ones.

For the Wildcats, Cotton did not have a night from the field he would have liked, finishing with 19 points, but only 33 per cent from the field, and none of four attempts from long-range. Instead it was John Mooney (25 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals) and Todd Blanchfield (21 points, four rebounds and four assists) who stepped up in the loss, but it would ultimately not prove enough to get the reigning premiers over the line as they headed home disappointed.

The Breakers do not have to wait long to run out on the court again, taking on Illawarra Hawks tomorrow night back at the Silverdome, whilst the Wildcats get a crack at the ladder leaders Melbourne United on Wednesday night.

Picture credit: Paul Kane/Getty Images

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

Brisbane need to find good form fast, Sobey conducting career-high season

WHILE the NBL21 season continues to tick over, the standings have started to display the different roles that each of the nine competition sides have to play with the final stretch of games remaining.

With this in mind, the Brisbane Bullets have emerged as one of the teams that has its season hanging in the balance with no clear indicator as to whether they will fall or climb in the standings. Only time will tell, with the Queensland side set to face 14 more opponents in the next seven rounds.

As of late, the Bullets have been struggling to find a legitimate stretch of form losing out in their previous two games against Melbourne United in Round 13 and most recently the New Zealand Breakers last week – a surprise loss to many.

If Andrej Lemanis and his side are ready to step up their composure it will need to be quick, as the tough matchups start to line up from the get-go. Later tonight, Brisbane will need to conquer the Red Army as they size up the Perth Wildcats before they host the third placed South East Melbourne Phoenix two days later.

Fortunately for the squad, the return of numerous players from injury has re-energised the Bullets’ morale and has put them in the best possible situation to try and shock the league with their depth.

Despite losing Vic Law to a season-ending ankle injury, former Breaker and NBL All-First Team selection Lamar Patterson is back from a knee injury and is ready to start dominating the Brisbane frontcourt once again. In his most recent performance, he pulled together a rather quiet nine points and five rebounds, while turning the ball over three times in the loss against his old team.

Noted as a quiet night to say the least, many remain hopeful of what Patterson is capable of based on his ridiculous numbers last year. The 29-year-old averaged 21.4 points per game, along with six rebounds and 4.6 assists in NBL20, while currently the power forward is putting together roughly 10 points per game and just over three and a half rebounds each time on the floor. A slow start to say the least, but plenty of time to make some improvement in the second half of the NBL21 fixture.

Other players to have recently returned from the injury block include sharpshooting wing Anthony Drmic who has been of useful significance up to this point of the season averaging over 10 points per game, 3.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists, and performing well in his rookie year, youngster Tanner Krebs (5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds).

It has been a season like no other for Bullets’ captain Nathan Sobey, with the 30-year-old owning the floor at both ends accounting for almost 23 points, five rebounds and four assists each time he steps onto the floor while shooting at an elite 47 per cent.

Starting big man and Patterson’s running mate of two seasons now, Matthew Hodgson is enjoying the effects of a good season once again after what was a stellar NBL20 campaign last season next to former Bullet Will Magnay. This year next to Harry Froling (7.4 points and 5.5 rebounds), Hodgson is another one of Brisbane’s double-digit point contributors averaging 10.7 per game at a 57 per cent shot efficiency and collecting 6.7 boards in the process.

The fifth player on the Brisbane roster to average more than 10 points per game is one of the most versatile players in the NBL and has earned his salt in the competition to be respected as a shooter and a defender. Jason Cadee is putting up his fourth highest scoring output during his eleventh season at the topflight of Australian basketball. The 30-year-old comes into today averaging 10.1 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 rebounds and continues to play a pivotal role in each win that the Bullets have collected up to today.

With a pretty even split of home and away games leading up to the semi-finals, not only do Brisbane need to hold down the majority of their home fixtures, but they also have to go into enemy territory and steal away numerous upsets if they are to make their steady climb up the ladder.

Over the next few weeks, the Bullets are set up for a tough stretch of games. As mentioned above, Brisbane is set to take on the two-time defending champions tonight and the Phoenix on Sunday as well as Thursday. Following this, the Bullets then take on two struggling outfits in the Adelaide 36ers and the Cairns Taipans, preceding a tough Round 18 involving the Wildcats and the Sydney Kings. This then sets up Brisbane for a three-game Round 19 for the Bullets with still a handful of games to take place afterwards.

Brisbane is one of the nine sides that has a foothold on the season as a contender, but time is running out and another bad run of form from Coach Lemanis’ side could very well mean losing their best chance at a late postseason charge.

Sweet revenge for Breakers as comeback shocks Wildcats

TUESDAY night’s heartbreak for the New Zealand Breakers was eased with an 83-78 win over the Perth Wildcats on Sunday. Bryce Cotton‘s heroic effort led Perth to an unlikely overtime win in Launceston on Tuesday, but the Breakers got their revenge, courtesy of a huge Levi Randolph performance. The Breakers trailed by as much as 13 points, but the team showed heart, and some impressive work on both ends of the floor saw them pull off a tough come from behind victory.

The game started in slow fashion, with both sides combining for four points in the first two minutes as the struggled to find their offensive rhythm. As the quarter progressed, players such as Tom Abercrombie and Todd Blanchfield began to get involved in the game. With the Wildcats taking only a two-point lead into the first break, the game was shaping as a thriller and the second quarter continued this trend. Both teams found themselves in foul trouble throughout the first half, with plenty of trips to the free throw line. Perth’s lead would grow by one by the end of the quarter to take a three-point advantage into half time in a very entertaining duel.

The third quarter could not have started any better for the Wildcats, who were looking to regain top spot on the ladder from Melbourne United with a win. Perth’s slick shooting saw them take a 13-point lead early in the term, led by some remarkable offence from Blanchfield and Jesse Wagstaff, who combined for 10 points in the first four minutes. The Breakers had their backs against the wall, with the lead threatening to get even bigger as they struggled to find anything positive on the offensive end. Enter US import Randolph. Randolph was the key catalyst for the turnaround, providing plenty of scoring off the bench. The Wildcats had no answer for his midrange game, as the 28-year-old proved deadly, pulling up with ease as New Zealand ended the quarter on a 24-6 run to remarkably take a five-point team into the final break. The last quarter saw the Wildcats fight back to draw level in the first minute of the game, thanks to a Cotton corner three. The fourth quarter remained back and forth for the majority, but with the Breakers holding a three-point advantage with 20 seconds remaining, an Abercrombie steal and layup sealed the deal.

As mentioned, Randolph was the star of the match, finishing with 22 points on an efficient 11 of 16 from the field. He was crucial when his side was in danger of a blowout, constantly losing defenders and inspiring teammates to do the same. He had some nice help from Abercrombie (14 points), Corey Webster (14 points and seven rebounds), Finn Delany (13 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and Colton Iverson (11 points and 17 rebounds). For Perth, Cotton continued to battle shooting struggles as he finished with 12 points on 4/17 from the field, but used his passing skills to get teammates in ideal positions and end with nine assists. John Mooney was terrific, pouring in 22 points and seven rebounds on 90 percent shooting. He battled well against Randolph and tried his hardest to conjure a win. Blanchfield performed well all game to finish with 19 points of his own.

The result saw United hold onto top spot for the round, as the Wildcats slipped to second with the NBL finals approaching. Perth have the chance to regain the top spot against the Bullets on Friday, while the Breakers will also play on Friday, facing off against the Taipans in Launceston.

United back to peak form, will they carry it into the NBL21 finals?

FOR the better part of their NBL21 campaign, Melbourne United has been widely regarded as the team to beat by the other eight sides. But since the turn of mid-season that moniker is being pulled in two different directions with the Victorian side and last year’s champions Perth Wildcats sharing the top of the ladder.

But with the last leg of games still to be played, United have all but locked up another postseason appearance, sitting more than five wins ahead of the Illawarra Hawks who currently sit in fourth position on the rankings. Nevertheless, these upcoming matches for Dean Vickerman’s squad will remain tremendously important, as there is little more valuable to a side than going into the finals with good form on their side.

Going all the way back to mid-January, Melbourne’s 24-point thrashing of the Adelaide 36ers was the perfect precursor for how United’s season was going to go, setting up what would be a lengthy unbeaten run to kick off the fixture. The 2020 semi-finalists then earned wins over the Cairns Taipans, South East Melbourne Phoenix, Brisbane Bullets, Illawarra Hawks and Perth Wildcats, capping off a six-game streak from the opening round – the best start to the season from any side across the competition.

Melbourne’s first blemish on their win-loss record came surprisingly on opening night of the inaugural NBL Cup against the Wildcats, who they had defeated just a couple of weeks prior. This loss reminded United not to rest on their laurels given their exemplary start and also how potent the two-time defending premiers still were. United quickly returned to their expected form with four straight victories following their first loss.

If Melbourne had continued their stellar results leading up to today, no one would even question any other team being on their level. But after attaining a ridiculous 10 wins for one loss start to the season, Melbourne conceded their second loss of the campaign to the Bullets to end Round 8. Afterwards, they would then suffer their third loss to the Phoenix, then a fourth to the Hawks, and a fifth to the Sydney Kings. Melbourne’s four-game losing streak quickly produced more doubters as the Wildcats started to close the gap on the ladder leaders.

United’s four losses during the NBL Cup saw them lock up fourth position in the tournament standings below Perth, South East Melbourne and Brisbane – a serious dark patch in what is looking to be a very successful NBL21 for Chris Goulding and his teammates.

Light has certainly been found at the end of United’s mid-season tunnel, having strung together a winning streak of seven games leading up to today since Round 10. Melbourne also sits half a game above Perth with the final lot of games to play, and with home-court advantage on the line come finals, the two sides will be putting their best foot forward to secure that minor premiership.

United has shown this season that there are three main weapons to their team structure. First up is Goulding’s ability to score anywhere on the floor efficiently and quickly which has served the team captain well for numerous years now. Goulding may not be the roster’s top scorer currently, but the 32-year-old has had some awesome scoring nights this season and his 16.2 points per game is evidence this.

A consistent and reliable participant on the floor as well as the second weapon of Melbourne’s three-pronged attack, Mitch McCarron has played all 22 of the team’s games this season (one of three Melbourne players not to miss a game). With this, McCarron has also produced solid numbers averaging 11.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and almost one and a half steals per outing.

Another player to have appeared in all 22 of United’s contests is Jock Landale and he has well and truly taken the league by storm. Averaging a team-high 16.5 points, 8.2 rebounds on 52 per cent shot success from the field, Landale is arguably Coach Vickerman’s biggest and most potent weapon. The big man is also dishing at almost two and a half assists per game and has accumulated eight double-doubles since the beginning of the season.

After losing Jack White (9.1 points and 6.0 rebounds) to a season-ending Achilles injury, the title contenders suffered a big blow to their squad rotation. However, with Scotty Hopson (12 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists) possibly returning and Sam McDaniel (4.8 points and 2.6 rebounds) back on the hardwood, Melbourne can use their depth to their fullest extent in running their opponents off the court. Additional weapons like import Yudai Baba (8.1 points and 2.1 rebounds) and big-man Jo Lual-Acuil (7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds) will also need to be clicking from here on in, as the end of the campaign approaches and especially once the postseason arrives.

Melbourne will have the chance to further consolidate their top-four dominance when they face the Hawks on Sunday, looking for their ninth home win in 11 matches. United then host the struggling 36ers in Round 15, who are running out of time to make their way into the top four and will need to defeat the Victorian side to start that uphill climb.

The NBL has also released the remaining fixtures for all nine teams. For information regarding the 14 games that Melbourne United are yet to play – CLICK HERE.

Wildcats break New Zealand hearts with an overtime victory

PERTH Wildcats prevailed in an overtime thriller, just edging out New Zealand Breakers (85-79) thanks to some Bryce Cotton magic to hit a three and send the game into extra time. It was a monumental occasion for the National Basketball League (NBL) with the game being held in Launceston, the first time an NBL match has been played in Tasmania in over a decade and the contest well and truly lived up to the hype.

New Zealand Breakers are renowned for their fast starts and this game was no different as they left the Wildcats in the lurch thanks to a scintillating 23 to nine point first quarter of play. They piled on the points early skipping out to a 12-4 point start and maintained that level of intensity throughout the first quarter inspired by Robert Loe who got busy with a handy six points. The overall team defence from the Breakers was impressive as they limited the influence of Cotton and John Mooney.

After impressing in the first term, Perth flipped the script to answer the call in the second and prove their dominance on the competition. Re-igniting their offensive prowess and hitting the scoreboard with more ease thanks to the likes of Mitch Norton and Jesse Wagstaff the Wildcats were able to steadily edge their way back into the contest. Increased defensive pressure came to the fore in the second quarter as Perth locked down the likes of Loe to reduce the ease in which New Zealand could score. Heading into half time only one point separated the two sides credit to the rise in intensity from the Perth side as they slotted 19 points to four to round out the quarter.

The tables well and truly started to turn in the third as Perth stole the lead for the first time of the game and put the Breakers on the backfoot. Cotton started to find his mojo after a difficult start plagued by inaccuracy as they held onto a three-point lead. With it all to play for in the final quarter Perth got out to a seven point lead but New Zealand were not about to back down and let the game slip through their fingers. Some huge plays from Tom Abercrombie and new recruit Levi Randolph dictated the term keeping New Zealand’s chances alive. The lead chopped and changed several times with neither side able to gain any real ascendancy with the game coming to a crescendo with a second left on the clock in normal time. Abercrombie made his presence felt in his 350th game while Corey Webster got involved in the action to cut the deficit to a mere point with a tick over 30 seconds to play.

The intensity continued to rise as the Breakers could sense a chance to topple their higher ranked opponents as William McDowell-White delivered a much needed layup and then converted the two free-throws to once again swing the lead back into the Breakers’ favour albeit by three points. But cometh the moment, cometh the man with Cotton draining a huge three to send the game into overtime, after struggling with inaccuracy all game.

Racing out to a handy lead in the first few minutes of overtime it looked as if the Breakers had secured a huge upset win. But the class of the Wildcats shone through as they strung together a 13 point to two point run to steal a nine point win, in an absolute heart stopper.

Finn Delany controlled proceedings for New Zealand just falling short of a double-double with nine rebounds and a team-high 25 points. Webster managed 11 points, three rebounds and eight assists in the loss while Abercrombie slotted 10 points of his own. Colton Iverson registered eight points, nine rebounds and two assists for the Breakers as Loe was handy with his 10 points and five rebounds.

Cotton led the charge for the Wildcats and despite his inaccuracy still managed to top the table with 34 points and dish off three dimes. Todd Blanchfield had an influence on the outcome thanks to his 16 points, six rebounds and three steals as teammate Norton produced 11 points and nine rebounds eight of which were defensive. Mooney was well and truly down on his usual productivity only managing three points but still reeling in nine rebounds and four steals. Wagstaff was the other key contributor thanks to his 10 points and five rebounds.

Harvey erupts for 35, Hawks hold off Taipans by two points

ILLAWARRA Hawks’ star import Tyler Harvey went off in Sunday’s closer for a career night in scoring, leading his team to edge out the Cairns Taipans 82-80 and going two wins clear of the fourth ranked Brisbane Bullets in the NBL standings – bearing in mind the Bullets have three games in hand.

After a tough loss two games prior to last night at home, the Hawks wanted to get off to the best start possible in what was the last game of Illawarra’s three-game home stand. With this in mind, Illawarra’s home crowd spurred their team on to a five-point lead after the first quarter as Harvey put up 10 points in that time.

While Cairns started to strike back after being down 20-25 at the first break, it had to begin through their main weapons in Cameron Oliver and Scott Machado. But as Mike Kelly’s squad started to string together some much needed scores, Illawarra’s Deng Deng and Deng Adel made their presence known to the Taipans finishing strong at the tail-end of the second quarter to put the Hawks up by 11 points at half time.

It was obvious that Kelly needed to inspire his side to a strong start in the third and Oliver felt obliged to step in early as a result. As the Cairns center kept knocking down jumpers, Justin Simon and Sam Froling answered back with buckets of their own and the third quarter ensued.

Backed by Oliver’s 10 third quarter points, Cairns pulled back the margin from 11 points at half time to just five, after a good defensive period which led to the Taipans limiting the Hawks to just 10 points before the fourth got underway.

Both sides traded baskets back and forth during the first couple of minutes in the final term before Nathan Jawai scored five consecutive points to tie up the contest with eight minutes left to play.

The one player that Cairns could not figure out how to contain was Harvey, as the first season import exploded for a career-high night putting Illawarra in the best possible position to finish the contest strongly.

In the final minute, a Simon jumpshot would fall to put the Hawks up by four, however, Jordan Ngatai dropped a triple of his own with 14 seconds on the clock to keep those in attendance on edge.

Luckily enough, Justinian Jessup remained cool and composed under pressure hitting four-straight free throws, allowing the Hawks to walk away with a narrow two-point victory and cap off a successful three-game home stretch, winning two games out of three.

In many areas of last night’s closer, both teams were relatively even throughout the meeting, but Illawarra excelled at scoring in the paint and rebounding at both ends. On the other hand, Cairns were much more disciplined from the free throw line shooting 85 per cent from the charity strike (17-20) and knocked down nine triples compared to Illawarra’s seven. All in all, both the Hawks and the Taipans shot relatively well with the sides shooting 45 and 40 per cent from the field respectively.

There was no stopping Harvey on his way to a career-high 35 points shooting 13 of 24 attempts from the field, as well as three rebounds to add to his performance. Simon was the only other Hawk to crack double digits with 10 points and six rebounds, while Andrew Ogilvy led Brian Goorjian’s roster in rebounds and assists finishing his night with eight points, nine boards and five dimes.

For Cairns, Oliver was head and shoulders above the rest of his teammates with an impressive 27-point, 12-rebound and five-assist outing. A surprising notable performance by youngster Tad Dufelmeier would also be a main headline in the box score with the 24-year-old putting up a season-high 12 points in 13-and-a-half minutes of game time.

Cairns now look to end their three-game losing streak on Wednesday night when they host the Adelaide 36ers, who are hot off a motivating win against the Perth Wildcats. Illawarra Hawks will hope to do the same thing as they head to RAC Arena on Friday to face the defending champions and kick off a Round 14 that will entail clashes against two of the top teams in the NBL.