Tag: simon mitchell

Phoenix rise to destroy Bullets in four-quarter effort

SOUTH East Melbourne Phoenix have accounted for Brisbane Bullets in a dominant four-quarter effort at Nissan Arena, posting a 95-66 victory in last night’s National Basketball League (NBL) contest. The Phoenix won each of the quarters throughout the night and took control from the first tip-off to win by 29 points in front of more than 2500 fans on the road.

The Phoenix dominated in the first high-scoring term with 31-24, then lead by eight points at half-time. The Bullets struggled to score after half-time, managing the same amount of points in the second half, as they did in the first quarter (24). They had just 10 in the third term, as the Phoenix piled on 26, then the visitors won the last quarter, 19-14 to run out comfortable 95-66 winners.

Aside from being level at the start, once the Phoenix lead, they never ceased control of the game, and blew the lead out to as much as 34 points late in the game, before the home team cut the final deficit back to 29 with some late baskets. Nonetheless it meant little, with Brisbane only winning the steals (11-7), and having two less personal fouls (18-20). The Phoenix dominated every area from shooting (51 to 36 per cent field goal efficiency), rebounding (50-38), assisting (19-13) and blocking (5-2). They also had two less turnovers (14-16), and scored more points in the paint (44-34) in a complete performance away from home.

Yannick Wetzell top-scored for the Phoenix in a game where they shared the points around with five players scoring between 10-18 points. Wetzell managed the 18 points and nine rebounds, whilst Kyle Adnam came off the bench for 16 points, five rebounds and two assists. Reuben Te Rangi (12 points, five rebounds) and Mitch Creek (12 points, five assists and four rebounds) also scored strongly, while Keifer Sykes had 10 points, eight assists and two rebounds in a solid outing.

For the Bullets, Anthony Drmic was the standout with 20 points, five rebounds and three steals, while Lamar Patterson had the 11 points, three assists and two rebounds. They were the only two shooters of note, with Nathan Sobey (four points, four assists) having a dirty night in terms of shooting accuracy, managing just one of seven from the field. Matt Hodgson (six points, three assists and two rebounds) and Tyrell Harrison (six points, eight rebounds) were other bigs who tried hard for the losers.

South East Melbourne Phoenix coach Simon Mitchell praised his side’s resilience in challenging times throughout the 2021 NBL season to regain momentum heading into finals.

“I’m really proud of the guys. We’ve had a rough year but we just keep putting our head down and busting through everything thrown at us,” Mitchell said.

“Just to get this little bit of a run here these last two weeks with our guys, there’s always been belief within the group even if outside the group it’s wavered a little bit.

“We had to go through a little bit of soul searching when we were dropping games and it was more about how we were going about it. We still haven’t really put our finger on anything other than we were buggered. We’ve turned the corner on that now and we just have to keep building.”

Brisbane Bullets will have the chance to almost immediately respond with another home game, this time against top of the table Melbourne United tomorrow night, whilst the Phoenix host Cairns Taipans in the penultimate round of action at John Cain Arena next Saturday evening.

Picture credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Patterson back to old self, Bullets knock over Phoenix

THE Brisbane Bullets are back in the winners column after three straight losses, beating the South East Melbourne Phoenix 94-82 away in Melbourne. Andrej Lemanis’ side earned their eleventh win of the campaign, putting them just two wins off a .500 record and instilling themselves with a glimmer of hope to chase a top four spot in these later stages of the season.

After showing positive signs in his last outing against the Perth Wildcats, Lamar Patterson was instrumental in getting the Bullets out in front early putting up substantial numbers. Meanwhile, Nathan Sobey provided his services in every other aspect of the game during the opening 10 minutes.

Capitalising on the 22-15 quarter-time lead, Brisbane’s bench started to punish the Phoenix as the Bullets were hungry for a win. Things for the Phoenix got slightly more difficult following Ryan Broekhoff’s early departure from the game, after the guard suffered a cut above the eye following a stray elbow from Sobey.

Having reached a double-digit deficit at the midway stages of the second term, a convenient 7-0 run for Simon Mitchell’s side saw the Phoenix severely reduce their disadvantage capped off by a fastbreak Ben Moore dunk.

Shooting over 40 per cent, the Bullets snuck away with a minimal two-point lead at the main break (36-34) as the Phoenix shot a woeful 28 per cent from the field. While South East Melbourne was indeed finding their buckets in various ways, Brisbane’s sheer effort around the rim was the main proponent for the visitors’ lead after two quarters.

Sobey’s slow-scoring first half was quickly forgotten about with the NBL’s second highest scorer adding nine points to his first six in the third quarter alone. Furthermore, winning the third, 33-25, the Bullets held a hard-earned 10-point lead with a period to play, despite Cam Gliddon’s efforts on the offensive end, which saw the Phoenix running out of time to get back into the contest in front of their home fans.

Other Bullets such as Anthony Drmic and Matthew Hodgson started to show glimpses of their terrific form that many have become familiar with this season. This also included a few good moments from key personnel off the bench like Harry Froling and Jason Cadee as Mitchell Creek and Kyle Adnam struggled to take off throughout all four stanzas.

Eventually Brisbane would outlast South East Melbourne’s pursuit, running out of John Cain Arena with the convincing 12-point victory and scoring more than 90 points in a game for the first time in nine outings.

Both teams improved their accuracy in shooting tremendously with the Phoenix concluding their night with a 40 per cent clip and Brisbane improving theirs to an impressive 52 per cent. The Bullets were superior in rebounding (43-37), assists (20-14) and threes made (10-6), while the hosts won out in free throws, turnovers forced and second chance points.

Even though South East Melbourne was proficient in several areas on the floor, their one main flaw in their approach was an inability to stop Patterson. The former All-NBL First Team selectee was huge once again, finishing with 27 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Sobey was back to his usual self in the second half as he compiled a modest 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Drmic was the next highest scorer with 15 points, whereas Hodgson and Froling each produced 11 points in the win.

Gliddon was the Phoenix’s leading scorer for a large part of last night’s matchup before leaving the court with 17 points and five assists. That saw Moore have a strong second half with 18 points and seven rebounds next to his name after 40 minutes, while Reuben Te Rangi and Creek were good for 12 and 11 points respectively.

The loss for the Phoenix provides an opportunity for the Bullets to try and reduce the distance between themselves and the top four, which also applies to Brisbane’s next opponents in the Adelaide 36ers, who they face this Saturday. On the other hand, the Phoenix can enjoy a week-and-a-half long break before facing cross-town rivals in Melbourne United in Round 17 next Saturday.

DJ and McVeigh power through Phoenix, hold off late charge for tenth win

A FLURRY of three-pointers was not enough to bring the South East Melbourne Phoenix back to life last night at John Cain Arena, going down 81-90 to the Adelaide 36ers as the visitors achieved their tenth win of NBL21 remaining within earshot of the top four.

Early on, the 36ers could hardly buy a bucket making just two shots from their opening 13 attempts from the field. Despite the glacial pace that Adelaide conducted themselves on the offensive end in the first, South East Melbourne failed to capitalise on their end to try and pull away early.

Finding 43 per cent of their shots in the initial term compared to Adelaide’s 18 per cent, the Phoenix would only manage to gain a one-point lead at quarter time, 16-15, led by Ben Moore and Cam Gliddon who each had six and five points respectively meaning that Simon Mitchell’s squad needed to up their intensity on the offensive end throughout the remaining three periods.

A strong start to the second by way of the Phoenix saw them stretch out their lead to seven points, but Adelaide would produce a substantial scoring streak to take the lead at the five-minute mark of the term and set the tone leading into the second half as a result. Winning the first two quarters 40-35 where they raised their shooting percentage all the way up to 41 per cent, Daniel Johnson started to impose his will on the opposing side with 12 points and four rebounds.

Conner Henry’s message to his roster was simple over the half time break, pummel the Phoenix down low and push the ball in transition. With this mindset, Adelaide extended their advantage out to double digits and took a firm grasp of the contest at the eve of the fourth quarter.

The uphill climb went from hard to daunting in the remaining 30 seconds of the third as Adelaide’s Daniel Dillon’s two made free throws and Sunday Dech’s layup at the buzzer slated the score line at 68-54, with South East Melbourne’s comeback window getting smaller and smaller as each minute started passing by.

After Dech’s second triple four minutes into the fourth, it capped off a superb 12-4 start for Adelaide putting the visitors up by 22 points with little to no time left on the game clock. The Phoenix were not willing to go down silently after producing a six-point run to cut the margin to 16, forcing Coach Henry to call for a cautious timeout.

Remarkably, back-to-back-to-back threes twice from Gliddon and once from Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa extended the Phoenix’s scoring run to 15 and cut the distance between the two sides to just seven points, and with 90 seconds left another layup from Le’afa whittled the margin down to five.

The comeback would end there following a Jack McVeigh knock-down three and a layup by Johnson as Adelaide eventually conquered the Phoenix by nine and reignited the 36ers’ late-season charge for the top four.

Starting below a grim 20 per cent in the opening stanza of last night’s opener, Adelaide did tremendously well to improve their efficiency on the floor up to 46 per cent (two per cent higher than the Phoenix’s 44 per cent). While South East Melbourne might have found their points from a wider variety of methods such as points off the bench and from turnovers, the Sixers earned a 41-36 win in rebounding and a 19-16 win in assists statistically. Adding to that, Adelaide’s poise at the free-throw line was also a primary factor in their win going 23 from 26 attempts at the line.

Who else but Johnson to lead the 36ers in points and rebounds as the potential NBL First-Team nominee settled for 22 points and eight boards. McVeigh also had a ball off the bench with 18 points in 26 minutes of play as well as Brandon Paul amassing 13 points, four rebounds and four dimes, while Dech punched his way to 16 points and seven rebounds. Josh Giddey put his footnote on various facets of the game as per usual, with the youngster contributing nine points, nine assists and five rebounds.

Once again, Mitchell Creek came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Gliddon’s four triples saw him good for 14 points and six rebounds. Le’afa finished with 14 points too, whereas Yannick Wetzell’s 13 and Moore’s 11 rounded out the Phoenix’s double-digit producers.

Both squads have tough matchups next week when South East Melbourne host the Sydney Kings in a battle of top tier teams with finals positions up in the air to open Round 15. On the flip side, Adelaide will need to dig deep when they look to accomplish the Melbourne double, facing United next Saturday.

Illawarra digs deep to scorch Phoenix in the fourth, earn 82-80 win

REINVIGORATED by their head coach, the Illawarra Hawks charged back last night with an inspired fourth quarter effort to steal away a win against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, 82-80, ending a three-game losing streak and winning their second game in seven outings.

Sluggish would be a rather overstated way of describing the events of the first quarter, as the Hawks conducted their lowest scoring opening period of the season with just 10 points to their name and no individuals with multiple baskets after 10 minutes. The Phoenix were not much better as they were only able to produce 18 points, however, an eight-point lead is always welcome to an NBL side.

Two quick buckets from Sam Froling to open the second was a direct result of Brian Goorjian’s stern words at the first break and the deficit was made substantially smaller too. Before Illawarra could gather too much momentum, South East Melbourne held their own and managed to keep their noses in front after two quarters. But the Hawks’ missed opportunities had the hosts frustrated and when Keifer Sykes knocked down a transition and second chance three with less than two minutes remaining in the half, the Phoenix could smell blood in the water, leading at the midway point 41-30.

Things looked like they were getting out of hand for the Hawks after Kyle Adnam got the second half underway with back-to-back triples, although a three of his own from Justinian Jessup slowed the roll of the Phoenix. Nevertheless, Simon Mitchell’s side continued to keep their opponents at arm’s length while the Hawks kept biting away at their deficit on the scoreboard.

With Tyler Harvey and Jessup spreading the floor and making their shots, the Hawks would win the third quarter 25 to 20 and trail by just six points with the final term still to be played. Meanwhile, Sykes, Adnam and Mitchell Creek needed to find a way to put away Illawarra, who were trying to avoid a sixth loss in seven matches.

The Hawks kept banging on the door and in the last five minutes of the fourth, Illawarra’s final charge would be led by none other than Harvey after hitting another triple. Jessup then converted on an And-One, which preceded buckets by both Froling and Justin Simon, cutting the Phoenix’s lead to a single point.

With two and a half minutes to go, another three-pointer from Jessup would gift the home side the lead, which was further compounded by yet another triple via Harvey to put the Hawks up by as much as seven points. Adnam and the rest of the South East Melbourne shooters tried their best to shoot themselves back into the contest, but Illawarra’s last-minute stand was enough to end the team’s recent dry run of form, earning the two-point win in front of an ecstatic Hawks crowd.

Both sides improved their offensive output as the night progressed culminating in both the Hawks and the Phoenix finishing with 44 per cent efficiency from the field in shooting. Illawarra gained the upper hand in statistics like free throw shooting, steals, blocks and points from turnovers, whereas South East Melbourne earned the advantage in rebounds and assists. The Phoenix also outscored the Hawks off the bench with 31 of their points flowing through their secondary unit.

Many would have thought Harvey’s 22 points, six rebounds and four assists were going to be the main talking point, but Jessup’s 26 points, six rebounds and two steals were arguably just as, if not, more important than his teammate’s. Froling ended the game with 10 points and five rebounds, while Simon finished with eight points and six boards.

Performing at an elite level once again, Adnam shot for 22 points along with five threes at 70 per cent from the field. However, with the return of Creek (15 points and six rebounds) and Sykes (14 points), the Phoenix duo can expect more court time after being away from the game for an extended period of time.

Now that Illawarra are back in the top four, they will need to defend their position when they face off with the Cairns Taipans on Sunday to round out their three-game week. Two hours prior to that, the Phoenix will travel to Sydney to meet the Kings and try to avoid two losses in the same week.

Phoenix season to reach crossroads over next few weeks; will Broekhoff break out?

OVER at the South East Melbourne Phoenix camp, it has certainly been an eventful last couple of weeks to say the least, with the upcoming months set to be just as interesting because of the consequential effect it will have on their NBL21 campaign.

To rattle off the list of recent events, the Phoenix have acquired an ex-NBA sharpshooter, won their last three games, secured a top-four seed as a result for now, and lost Mitch Creek for an indefinite amount of time after being charged by Victoria Police with alleged assault. All of these moments have led to now and South East Melbourne’s upcoming fixtures. This will be an opportunity for the Melbourne based side to show just how deep they can bat and if they can prevail in adversary.

After news hit that former Dallas Mavericks member Ryan Broekhoff would be signing with the newest side in the National Basketball League (NBL) back in mid-February, many have been eager to see how the Victorian would have an impact on the rest of the competition.

Broekhoff did not make his first NBL appearance until March 12, but that was to follow after the Phoenix began their recent run of form just days earlier, when they shocked both their cross-town rival and league leaders, Melbourne United.

In their Round 9 matchup against United, South East Melbourne had just nine active players ready to suit up as Keifer Sykes, Dane Pineau, Adam Gibson, Kendall Stephens and Broekhoff were out of action for a litany of reasons.

Nevertheless, for Creek, he ran away with 31 points and 10 rebounds next to Kyle Adnam who also had a productive evening with 18 points and eight rebounds. The performances by these two carried a reduced Phoenix squad over the line into overtime, where Reuben Te Rangi shone, assisting the team to a 97-92 victory and a Melbourne Throwdown win to remember.

Creek’s season-high scoring performance on the night was indicative of the forward’s presence on the floor so far this season, which points to how much of a loss his absence will be going forward. The loss will primarily come from behind the arch where he causes so much damage off the dribble and the occasional three when he is in rhythm, not including his diligence on the glass and ability to make his teammates more involved on the floor.

Moving on from their big win against Melbourne, the Phoenix had a lowlier opponent waiting in the distance for their next clash. But this time, the Phoenix had the opportunity to show off their new signing in Broekhoff.

Despite playing just a minor role off the bench in South East Melbourne’s 85-81 win over Cairns, Broekhoff was a wonderful addition on the night. Playing over 13 minutes against the Taipans, he shot the ball just six times but converted on three attempts. Knocking down these three field goals including a trademark triple, Broekhoff finished with a minor contribution of seven points, but it was enough to put the NBL on notice with the Phoenix adding another weapon to their arsenal.

Broekhoff once again exhibited relatively low production numbers in the Phoenix’s next outing against New Zealand to conclude the NBL Cup, finishing with only three points in nine minutes of play. Coach Mitchell limited his new signing’s minutes to help him settle in, meaning the one-two punch of Creek and Adnam was called upon once again, as the pair combined for 42 points with each finding the mark for 21 points apiece and helping South East Melbourne to their third straight win leading up to today, toppling the Breakers comfortably 103-89.

Defeating United, Cairns and then New Zealand in Round 9, the Phoenix did not only place second in the NBL Cup standings meaning a reward of $100,000 for the club, but also helped improve their regular season record to nine wins and seven losses. Due to this, South East Melbourne now sit tentatively in fourth position on the NBL ladder.

With a top-four position to defend from this point on and an abundance of games still yet to be played, the Phoenix need to recognise that they now have a target on their back which they will find out in their upcoming contests.

First up on the docket is the Adelaide 36ers at home, who are currently seeking some good form coming out of the NBL Cup with the second worst record over the three rounds (two wins and six losses). But with the Phoenix to set foot on the court without their leader in Creek, perhaps now is the time to release the long-range damage of Broekhoff, as they now have 21.2 points, 3.7 assists and 7.3 rebounds to replace – a big amount of statistics to fill before facing Melbourne again in Round 11.

Adding to this, Adnam will also need to step up in the backcourt, more so than ever with his captain out of action. The 27-year-old guard has averaged 17 points and six assists during his last three games. Cameron Gliddon (11.2 points per game this season) will also need to be a big producer on the hardwood as too will Yannick Wetzell down low.

Big weeks lie ahead for South East Melbourne, and it is safe to say that it will be the true test of will for this side in NBL21, because firstly, they are severely undermanned at this time and furthermore, the Phoenix have a tough stretch of games heading into postseason action.

Franchise record efficiency earns Phoenix NBL Cup runners up honours

THE South East Melbourne Phoenix have won three in a row for the first time since the start of the season and have secured second place on the NBL Cup ladder after their 14-point victory over the New Zealand Breakers (103-89). Setting a franchise record of 63 per cent shooting from the field, they won all four quarters on the back of five players scoring double figures. An ominous sign for the competition with players like Keifer Sykes, Adam Gibson, Kendall Stephens, and Dane Pineau still to come back in.

Injuries have also affected the Breakers with Corey Webster, Rob Loe, and Lamar Patterson missing, while new signings in Jeremy Kendle and William McDowell-White are not yet available. Despite these absences on either side, both outfits have been playing some of their best basketball this season.

The first matchup between these sides in 13 months kicked off in an efficiently high-octane fashion with the Phoenix leading 29-23 at the first break.

The anticipated matchup of Finn Delany and Mitch Creek was ignited early with plays at both ends providing some quality basketball, but the work of Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa was what stood out in early proceedings. He drew two charges and dropped a pair of threes and has quickly become one of the biggest improvers during the NBL Cup.

The Phoenix did not take care of the ball as much as they would have liked, but 5-8 from deep which included a missed three-quarter court buzzer-beater was what gave them the edge. With each quarter giving South East Melbourne something to play for, they were reluctant to drop a point and managed to hold out the Breakers in the second to lead 53-46 at half time.

Delany was leading the charge for New Zealand as he made his way to 13 first-half points, but 13 from Ben Moore and 12 from Creek on perfect field shooting was pivotal to their edge in the game. Offensive efficiency was key in their lead, but they were still giving up the ball too much as coach Simon Mitchell pleaded with his troops to restrict their scoring from turnovers.

With the game still in the balance, the Breakers had to reverse their second-half history as they had only won one of their last nine.

Tai Webster was set on being the man to step up and knocked down two triples to start the third. On his next attacking foray, he committed an offensive foul and had to sit down with four fouls. From there, the Phoenix extended their lead with their attack on the paint. They would make shots inside or draw the foul or draw the defence and kick it to their shooters on the outside.

They led 78-65 at the final break but despite their lead, coach Mitchell was not happy and implored his team to think beyond just winning quarters but playing basketball that would take them deep into the season.

Mostly sloppy back and forth basketball in the final quarter did not see any significant change in the margin as South East Melbourne won the final quarter to give them the maximum seven points to put them outright second on the NBL Cup ladder. It was just the second time that a side won all four quarters and the game, with the other being New Zealand.

Creek had 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists, while Kyle Adnam had 21 points and seven assists and were the key contributors to go with Yannick Wetzell (15 points) and Cam Gliddon (10 points, four rebounds, four assists).

The Phoenix scored 48 points in the paint and tried to expose the undermanned Breakers line up inside. Thanks to 17 points from Moore, their bench outscored New Zealand’s by 19 points as they opted to go with a six-player rotation with just two other players playing six minutes or less.

Being notably undermanned themselves, Creek said his side did a fantastic job to finish second in the NBL Cup having had their “backs against the wall”.

“Guys out injured, guys stepping up, replacement players, Ryan [Broekhoff] coming in with 14 days of sitting on a couch essentially, so proud of the guys and what they’ve been able to achieve,” he said. “We’ve all gone through a lot of adversity to be here, it’s nice to get a bit of prize money that’s fantastic, the beers will taste good tonight, but we’ve got to get back into it”.

Delany (24 points, six rebounds, three assists, 40 minutes) and Tom Abercrombie (23 points) both shot at 60 per cent and kept the Breakers competitive, while Webster managed 16 points and five assists, but eight turnovers.

The Phoenix look ahead to the 36ers on Saturday having pushed their way into outright fourth, while the Breakers will face the Bullets on the same night.

Sydney make statement NBL Cup win with victory over Phoenix

IN a battle of two mid-table teams the Sydney Kings reigned supreme after quelling the South East Melbourne Phoenix last night at John Cain Arena, 91-85, edging closer to the top of the NBL Cup standings and silencing the home crowd in the process.

Surprisingly given that these two teams had not faced off with each other yet this season, both sides kept their opponent’s offenses relatively harmless throughout the opening term with neither squad able to score 20 points. But at the end of the first 10 minutes, after a put back Brad Newley dunk to give his side momentum the Kings led 19-14.

Bouncing back from a sluggish first quarter, the Phoenix hit back hard with a 33-24 second term and led at half time 47-43 as a result, while Mitchell Creek found some of his rhythm leading into the main break.

The seesawing trend of one-sided quarters followed the Kings and the Phoenix into the second half with Sydney outscoring South East Melbourne by 12 points and re-establishing the lead for the first time since the start of the second period, leading 73-65 at three-quarter time.

But Simon Mitchell had a few hidden cards up his sleeve and New Zealand would be the common denominator. The production rate of Yanni Wetzell, Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa and Reuben Te Rangi would skyrocket in the second half and it proved to be one of the most important events of the game.

However, with the Phoenix’s supporting cast trying their best to get their side back into the contest in the fourth, Sydney were too well-rounded in the long run and more specifically in the paint as the Kings’ frontcourt were well versed in converting from in close.

Ultimately after 40 minutes capped off by solid second halves from Dejan Vasiljevic and Casper Ware, Sydney emerged triumphant in their first clash against the Phoenix of NBL21 by six points and have now pushed closer to the top of the NBL Cup standings.

Sydney was superior in multiple facets in the game, most noticeably their 52 per cent shooting from the field. It was one of their most accurate nights to date in NBL21 as it dwarfed South East Melbourne’s 41 per cent conversion rate. The Kings’ plus-seven on the boards (41-34 in rebounding) and the 14 assists were also major boosters in their win, despite turning the ball over 18 times. While the Phoenix led in second chance points and points scored from forced turnovers, it was not enough to get themselves over the line in front of the home crowd.

Vasiljevic has on numerous occasions led the Kings in scoring during his rookie NBL season, and last night was no different with the 23-year-old pulling together 19 points and four rebounds in the win. Furthermore, Jordan Hunter was also instrumental, scoring 15 and also securing four rebounds, whereas Ware and Shaun Bruce waltzed away with double digits for scoring putting up 11 and 10 points respectively. Off the bench with 13 points and six rebounds was Newley, who has had nothing short of an eventful season to this point.

South East Melbourne’s leader in Creek had a substantial outing with 22 points, nine rebounds and three assists, while Wetzell finished with 16 points and five rebounds. Te Rangi ended with 13 points and Kyle Adnam amassed 10 points and four assists of his own, as Le’afa had himself a ball with 15 points and five rebounds, including three triples.

The Phoenix will compete in Wednesday’s closer against Melbourne United in the hotly contested Throwdown, whereas Sydney will get five days to recover for their derby game as well against the Illawarra Hawks on Thursday, who still remain a formidable side.

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.

No Sykes, no problem as Phoenix hold firm around top of the table

A SUNDAY double-header to end round seven action kicked off with the South East Melbourne Phoenix meeting and beating the Illawarra Hawks for the second time this season, 93-76. Two of the three teams in the league that average more than 90 points per game were both coming off tough losses and were looking to bounce back to solidify their place around the top of the table.

With stringent and physical defence from the Phoenix handing the Hawks their first season loss in their first matchup, the key difference this time was the absence of star import Keifer Sykes who is carrying an ankle injury. He joined the already sidelined Adam Gibson and Dane Pineau, as well as the recently signed Ryan Broekhoff who is still in quarantine. Kyle Adnam stepped up in his absence as the Phoenix again restricted the Hawks to their lowest score the season and served them their biggest loss.

The Phoenix picked up where they left off from their last matchup and were intense on both ends of the floor from the outset. Adnam and Cam Gliddon led the charge early with tidy distribution and shot making being key areas that gave the Phoenix an early lead which they did not squander.

While their intensity was clearly superior early, South East Melbourne was also able to take the Hawks off the dribble and either straight to the rim to score or find passes inside to big men like Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore.

With Sykes’ injury forcing the Phoenix to make rotation changes, star of the New Zealand National Basketball League Izayah Mauriohooho-Le’afa was given extra minutes having played just four minutes this season. He made an immediate impact with his known defensive abilities, forcing an eight-second backcourt violation in his first possession on the court.

The offensive stalwarts for the Hawks in Justinian Jessup and Tyler Harvey struggled for much of the game, with air balls for each of them highlighting their struggles. The pair also struggled in their last matchup, as coach Simon Mitchell made a point of reminding his players to always know where they are and force them right.

The quarter-time score read 25-13 for the Phoenix as they shot the ball 19 per cent better and had six more assists, areas they would continue to dominate for the rest of the game.

Brian Goorjian pleaded for more physicality from his outfit, and despite a couple of easy baskets and poorly missed shots, an and-one from Andrew Ogilvy, and triples from Deng Deng, Deng Adel, and Harvey combined with some intensity on the defensive end saw them back within six points.

Losing the offensive fluidity they enjoyed to this point, the Phoenix sought to get to the free throw line to halt the Hawks’ momentum and did so to great effect. They had 17 attempts to Illawarra’s five.

The Hawks, however, continued to shoot well from deep and if it were not for some Mitch Creek magic down the stretch, the Hawks would not have been trailing 45-37 at the main break.

Although the margin was only eight points, South East Melbourne still felt in control and they proved it with a big 28-18 third quarter to give them an 18-point lead heading into the final quarter. An up and down start to the term would eventually be dominated through the Phoenix’s sharp ball movement, and offensive glass prowess headed by Moore.

The margin was extended to 20 points after an Adnam floater was followed by his tenth assist on the night.

The final quarter comeback would have needed to have been the biggest of the season, but it was not to be as the rest of the game ebbed and flowed. Two Cameron Bairstow triples gave the Hawks life, but the Phoenix pushed through and kept the Hawks to their lowest score of the season again winning 93-76.

The Phoenix enjoyed another huge NBL Cup outing from Creek who had 25 points, six rebounds, and four assists on 58 per cent shooting. Gliddon put up 19 points, to go with five rebounds and three assists, while Adnam fell just short of a double-double with nine points, 11 assists, and four steals. Moore also enjoyed one of his best games this season with 22 points and five rebounds off the bench, which included 12 of 12 from the free throw line.

South East Melbourne has 23 more free throw attempts in the game and managed to force Illawarra into 16 turnovers. This disciplined defenced managed to hold the Hawks’ key players in Jessup (seven points) and Harvey (14 points) quieter than usual. Justin Simon (13 points, six rebounds) was the only other Illawarra player to score more than 10 points.

The Phoenix will look to carry this momentum into their Wednesday matchup with Perth, while the Hawks will look to bounce back on Thursday against the 36ers.

Triple-double by Sykes helps Phoenix burn Bullets

WITH both the Brisbane Bullets and the South East Melbourne Phoenix coming off their biggest victories of the season, the two teams battled in yesterday’s opener for three out of four quarters, before the Phoenix ran away 99-83 winners after a 31-point fourth quarter – placing their record above .500 with their fifth win of the season.

The Bullets came into Melbourne on Sunday ready to play, landing the first punch and startling the Phoenix throughout the first 10 minutes, as Brisbane led 27 to 16 after an impressive 15-point run headlined the opening term.

Reinvigorated by team leaders Mitchell Creek and Adam Gibson during the first break, South East Melbourne opened the second with a 15-6 start, all but clearing the margin mid-way through the period.

Some impressive work by Matthew Hodgson and Nathan Sobey was enough to stave off a resilient Phoenix fightback. But after two, Simon Mitchell and his guys had tied things up already. While both teams were locked up at 44 points apiece, Creek was phenomenal through 20 minutes, harbouring 20 points and four rebounds already, while Sobey, Hodgson and Anthony Drmic had combined for 33 points in the same amount of time.

Seven consecutive points by the Phoenix to commence the second half dumbfounded the visitors, instilling the entire Green Team to step up their game in what appeared to be a pivotal moment of the contest. In another twist, Brisbane produced a nine-point run of their own shortly before the five-minute mark of the third, making for an entertaining final 15 minutes.

Keeping their noses in front 68-66 with a term to play, Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix had another great start with a 10-0 effort to put the side up by 12, placing South East Melbourne firmly in the driver’s seat.

The Bullets continued to fight in the dying stages of the meeting cutting the deficit to as little as nine points. However, a three from Cam Gliddon with seven seconds on the clock iced the game, while Sykes earned his triple-double at the start of that same possession just before the Phoenix closed out the win.

An impressive shooting night best described the Phoenix’s overall game, converting on 39 out of 76 shots (51 per cent) from the field last night, while doling out 23 assists in the process. For Brisbane, their biggest detriment was their inability to slow down South East Melbourne from deep, allowing 13 triples and only producing six of their own.

Finishing with 29 points, nine rebounds and an assist, Creek emerged supreme as the game’s leading scorer, but man of the match honours was unequivocally awarded to Sykes after he secured a 14-point, 11-assist and 10-rebound triple-double. Gliddon ruled from beyond the arc with 19 points off of five threes in 36 minutes of play, whereas Kyle Adnam had another strong outing with 15 points and six assists.

Hodgson showed up with an elite level of focus making nine out of 10 shots on his way to a team-high 20 points and nine rebounds. Sobey who leads the NBL in scoring was held to a modest 16 points, six rebounds and four assists as Coach Mitchell had a great game plan in place to neutralise the star. Lastly, Drmic was large off the bench with 16 points and four rebounds as well posing as the only other double-digit contributor – Vic Law finished with a lowly nine-point performance.

The Phoenix will look for the two-win week when they challenge the Adelaide 36ers on Tuesday night to conclude Round Six, whereas the Bullets will take aim at the Illawarra Hawks on Friday night.