Tag: yudai baba

Olympics review: Day 8 – Slovenian men and Spanish women secure pole positions in respective groups

SPAIN and Serbia secured their spots in the next round of the women’s basketball competition with wins to round out the preliminary stage of competition at the Tokyo Olympics, while the last men’s matches were run and done with Slovenia grabbing top spot in Group C, and Spain securing second.

MEN’S:

Argentina (97) defeated Japan (77)

Argentina finished up its group stage with a comfortable 20-point win over home nation Japan to secure a spot in the quarter finals. The South Americans took control early and opened up a 10-point lead at quarter time. Despite Japan hitting back in the second to reduce the deficit back to eight at half-time, Argentina took control in the second half and piled on 51 points to 39 to run out easy 97-77 victors. Leading the efficiency from the field (46 to 42 per cent) it was the South American’s ability to hit the three-pointers with 14 to six from beyond the arc. They also won the rebounds (48-39) and assists (27-16) in comprehensive fashion.

Luis Scola racked up a double-double with some eye-catching long-range shooting, making up five of eight from beyond the arc, to finish with 23 points and 10 rebounds in the win. Facundo Campazzo (17 points – five of nine from three-point range – 11 assists and seven rebounds) almost helped himself to a triple-double, while Gabriel Deck (16 points, four rebounds and three assists) and Marcos Delia (14 points, seven rebounds) were also consistent. Yudai Baba was one of five Japanese players to reach double-figure points despite the loss, with the Melbourne United talent recording 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Yuta Watanabe (17 points, nine rebounds) and Rui Hatchimura (13 points, 11 rebounds and two assists) were also dominant players off the boards.

Spain (87) defeated by Slovenia (95)

In a battle of the two undefeated sides, Slovenia grabbed top spot and avoided playing USA, France or Australia in the next stage of the Olympics, defeating Spain by eight points in a thrilling contest. The Spanish started the stronger of the teams, leading by four points at quarter time, before the Slovenians started to whittle the deficit back. It was down to three at half-time and two at the final break, before finishing the stronger of the sides with a 27-17 last quarter to win 95-87. Slovenia shot at a higher clip from he field (42 to 38 per cent), with more rebounds (51-41) and points in the paint (34-22), whilst Spain hit 16-12 three-pointers in defeat.

Luca Doncic came close to a triple-double in another outstanding effort, making 12 points and despite being inaccurate from the field – just two of seven – he had 14 rebounds and nine assists for his troubles. Vlatko Cancar (22 points, two rebounds) had the most points in the game, while Mike Tobey (16 points, 14 rebounds and three assists) picked up a double-double and Klemen Prepelic (15 points, three assists and two rebounds) was also lively. Ricky Rubio managed 18 points, nine assists and three rebounds for Spain, while Alberto Abalde (14 points, four rebounds) and Rudy Fernandez (12 points, five rebounds) were both solid.

The quarter finals draw was also decided with the eight teams qualified. Each of the three group winners – France, Australia and Slovenia – along with the highest ranked second side United States – were drawn against the other two group runners-up in Italy and Spain, whilst third placed Germany and Argentina also finished in the top eight. France will take on Italy, Slovenia will face Germany, Australia will meet Argentina, and in the biggest clash, United States will lock horns with Spain.

WOMEN’S:

Canada (66) defeated by Spain (76)

Spain concluded its group stage undefeated with a 10-point victory over Canada, officially knocking the North Americans out of the next stage of competition. The Spanish were on top from the first whistle, taking a 10-point lead into quarter time credit to their 23-13 quarter. That was the key difference in the game, though Canada cut the deficit back to six by the main break. Spain again got on top to win the third term 20-13 and blow it out to a 13-point advantage with a quarter to play, before Canada again hit back in the last quarter to win it 19-16 and put up a fight, but not enough as Spain won 76-66. The Spanish shot at a far higher 59 to 34 per cent from the field, and had the same amount of rebounds (34) despite being dominated off the offensive boards (12-1) by the Canadians. Spain easily won the assist count (29-14), and capitalised on points from turnovers (26-14) despite having three more turnovers (21-18).

Astou Ndour was the key scorer for Spain, putting up 20 points and 11 rebounds in a double-double effort. Cristina Ouvina (15 points, seven assists and two rebounds) and Alba Torrens (12 points, four rebounds and four assists) were the other two key Spaniards, with Queralt Casas (eight points, five assists and three rebounds) and Laura Gil (eight points, seven rebounds and five assists). Kia Nurse led the way for Canada with 14 points – four of seven from beyond the arc – two rebounds and two assists. Natalie Achonwa (11 points, six rebounds and two assists) and Laeticia Amihere (10 points, six rebounds) also reached double-figures.

Korea (61) defeated by Serbia (65)

It was a closer game than many predicted but Serbia did what Serbia needed to do, and picked up the victory against Korea. Firing on all cylinders early, Serbia led 17-10 at the first break and then extended the lead to eight by half-time. The underdogs hit back in the second half to reduce it back to six by the final break, and kept charging in the last to actually lead by three points with four minutes remaining, but could not score in the last four minutes, as Serbia scored the last seven points of the match to win, 65-61. Serbia shot at a higher clip from the field (40 to 32 per cent) and despite only nailing two of 13 from long-range, still did enough to produce the win.

Aleksandra Crvendakic led the way for scoring with 15 points, as well as picking up seven rebounds and four assists. Tina Krajsinik (14 points, six rebounds), Yvonne Anderson (12 points, five rebounds and three assists) and Jelena Brooks (11 points, three rebounds) were the other double-figure scorers for Serbia. It was a two-player show for Korea with Jihyun Park and Danbi Kim combining for 32 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. Park finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists and Kim had 15 points, six rebounds and three assists, as Ji Su Park came close to a double-double courtesy of her 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

Picture credit: AP

2021 Olympics preview

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

Men’s:

Group A:

Iran
France
USA
Czech Republic

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

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

Group B:

Australia
Germany
Italy
Nigeria

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

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

Group C: 

Argentina
Japan
Spain
Slovenia

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

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

Prediction:

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

Women’s:

Group A:

Korea
Serbia
Canada
Spain

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

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

Group B:

Nigeria
Japan
France
USA

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

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

Group C:

Australia
Puerto Rico
China
Belgium

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

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

Prediction:

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

 

Photo credit: Basketball Australia

Melbourne United season summary

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

SEASON SUMMARY:

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

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

HOW IT UNFOLDED:

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

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

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

WHAT WORKED WELL:

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

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

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

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

WHAT WENT WRONG:

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

ROSTER NEWS:

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

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

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

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

LOOKING TOWARDS NEXT SEASON:

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

 

Picture credit: Daniel Pockett/AAP

United clinch 2021 NBL championship with a clean sweep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Melbourne United Twitter

2021 NBL Grand Final preview: Game 3

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Will Russell

United make it two from two away from home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: AAP

2021 NBL Finals: Perth vs. Melbourne – Grand final preview

IT is a tale as old as time with Perth Wildcats and Melbourne United once again set to lock horns in the National Basketball League (NBL) Grand Final. Game 1 and 2 will be played at RAC Arena given the current COVID-19 restrictions in place in Victoria with the hopes of Game 3 to be played back in Melbourne.

Taking out top spot on the ladder three games clear of Perth, United will be hoping to bring that same level of intensity when they enter the fortress that is RAC Arena on Friday night. The two teams have faced off five times this season with United securing three of those victories to give them the edge heading into the grand final series. However with a home crowd behind them and an uncanny ability to do the unthinkable Perth are not without a real chance here. The Wildcats are not back-to-back premiers for no reason with their ability to come from the ashes and steal a win one of their specialities meaning United will have to be on their a-game.

The two sides met only a couple of years ago in the 2018/19 grand finals series where the Wildcats claimed victory in four games a feat that United will be hoping to reverse. An early win here in enemy territory could really shape a title push for Melbourne. But if Perth are able to apply the early pressure then it could make life hard for the visitors who are on the hunt for their first premiership since 2018.

Both sides were put through the wringer to make it to the grand final forced to three games in their respective semi-finals series. Perth was faced with Illawarra Hawks who turned their 2020 campaign well and truly around from bottom of the table to third while United had to come from behind in Game 3 to topple South East Melbourne Phoenix. But now heading into this clash it will be battle to see which playmakers can step up to the plate and lead the charge. Both sides are littered with classy figures that are no strangers to the big stage but it will be their ability to withstand the pressure and play composed basketball that will be the real difference.

Perth has been missing Bryce Cotton and he is an integral member in their side given his capacity to bob up at any given time and attack the rim or dish off dimes. Without him expect John Mooney to up the ante. Mooney is coming off a 16 point and 15 rebound game with the bigman proving to be a menace up either end of the court with 13 of those 15 rebounds defensive. Todd Blanchfield has been resurgent this season with his attacking manner and imposing style of play allowing him to impact the scoreboard as seen through his 24 points last game and season average of 15 points. Mitch Norton is another one the Wildcats will be hoping continues his hot run of form while Jesse Wagstaff is a real heart and soul player that can inspire his team when needed.

Looking at United and after a milestone game last round Chris Goulding will be wanting to continue his careers upwards trajectory. In his 351st game, the captain will be hoping to find his range nice and early from beyond the arc to send off a real warning shot to the Wildcats. Goulding averages 15.4 points a game along with 2.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Another real livewire for United is Jock Landale with the star recruit showcasing his attacking prowess last game to drag his side over the line. Landale leads the way for United with 16.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists to his name making him a concern for the Wildcats. Throw in the likes of Scotty Hopson with 12.3 points and 3.6 rebounds each time he steps out on the court plus the reliability of Mitch McCarron and United have their fair share of power players. Yudai Baba is known for his ability to chime in while Jo Lual-Acuil is also having an impressive season making for an enticing battle.

Photo credit: Getty images

Landale guides United to victory and grand final berth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Mark Kolbe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Jason McCawley

2021 NBL Semi-finals preview: Melbourne United vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix

FRIDAY night will play host to the second lot of National Basketball League (NBL) semi-finals action with Melbourne United and South East Melbourne Phoenix set to lock horns.

The two sides have a rich history despite the Phoenix only entering the competition last year, with a healthy rivalry between the cross-town rivals brewing with each and every game. This series will be no different with the growing tussle between the two sides sure to make for great viewing. With Victoria out of action due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns in place the match between United and the Phoenix will be played at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney.

United have been top of the ladder for majority of the season racking up 28 wins and only dropping eight games while for the Phoenix they registered 19 wins and 17 losses. The Phoenix had a rough finish to the season with Brisbane Bullets finishing on 19 wins too but South East Melbourne’s percentage fractionally better gifting them their first shot at playoffs. United have only lost one of their past five games while it is a different story for the Phoenix who just snuck into the top four. South East Melbourne have struggled to put their best foot forward in their past five outings dropping three out of five games but finals are a completely different ball game and one United have always struggled with in the past. Often known as the bridesmaids when it comes to NBL history, Melbourne United will be hoping to open their account with a strong win and edge one step closer to that all-elusive premiership.

There is no denying that Jock Landale has been revelation since joining Melbourne United with the star showing what he is capable on the big stage. Landale averages 16.4 points a game along with 7.89 rebounds and 2.37 assists. There is no going past Chris Goulding with the veteran a steady and calm head for the side with his ability to control the tempo and step up to the plate when necessary. Goulding averages 15.67 points a game plus 2.6 rebounds and 2.27 assists. Jo Lual-Acuil is having a season to remember with the bigman imposing himself off the bench with his 9.69 points and 5.66 rebounds while Mitch McCarron has been a pillar of consistency and will need to deliver to give United an edge. Throw in the likes of Scotty Hopson and Yudai Baba and United have a plethora of scoring options.

When looking at the Phoenix there is no shortage of superstars with Mitch Creek, Keifer Sykes and Ryan Broekhoff all impressive candidates. Creek has been a lynchpin in the side able to rally the troops or carry the side on his back to victory averaging 18 points, 6.41 rebounds and 3.62 assists a game. Sykes is another force to be reckoned with registering 14.04 points and 5.29 assists while Broekhoff is yet to reach the peak of his powers putting up numbers of 7.56 points and 3.5 rebounds. Kyle Adnam has upped the ante in season 2021 producing impressive numbers thanks to his average of 12.61 points and 3.64 assists. The Phoenix will need the likes of Cameron Gliddon, Yannick Wetzell and Ben Moore to find their groove if they are to get over the line.

Melbourne United vs. South East Melbourne Phoenix
Friday, June 11 @7:30pm

South East Melbourne Phoenix vs. Melbourne United
Sunday, June 13 @3:00pm

Photo credit: Graham Denholm