BRYCE who? In their triumph over the Adelaide 36ers, the Perth Wildcats proved that while Bryce Cotton is an absolute gun of the competition, they can still prove dangerous without him. The dual-National Basketball League (NBL) MVP missed Sunday’s game, with the team opting to not risk his health following a groin injury. Cotton has been immensely valuable for the Wildcats, and there were question marks around whether this team could perform without him. These doubts were squashed as the team ground their way to a 76-68 win at Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
The game started as a close affair, with Wildcat Mitchell Norton involved early with his ability to not only score the ball but find teammates with great looks. The 36ers were keeping up with their opponents however, and each lead gained was immediately met with an instant reply. While the start was promising for the Wildcats, a major concern raised pre-match was fatigue, as this was the side’s 11th match in just six days. This was reflected in play, but not on the scoreboard, as the side scrapped their way to a four-point advantage at the first break. The second term saw the Wildcats jump to an early nine-point lead, thanks to a Clint Steindl three ball and some crafty work inside from Norton. This lead would not last though, with Adelaide able to keep the pace with their opponents and stay right in the contest. Ball movement was the key for the 36ers, and they trailed by just two points at half-time, and left for the locker room with plenty of confidence.
The second half opened in tense fashion, with both teams trading baskets. It was not until halfway through the term that the Wildcats were able to break away to a six-point lead, but it took just two minutes for this advantage to disappear, and the teams were back and forth once again. A handy three-pointer from Kevin White saw the Wildcats head into the final term with a five-point margin. The fourth quarter delivered plenty of fast-paced action, as the lead floated around the six-point mark for majority of the term. The dagger came in the form of a strong and-one from Norton that put his side up by seven points to seal the game, in what was a gutsy win from the away side.
For the Wildcats, the star of the show was Norton, as the guard was given more opportunity with the absence of Cotton and grabbed it with both hands. He finished the match with 19 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Norton showed leadership qualities as he drove his side to an important win heading into the finals series. With Cotton’s return imminent, Norton should prove another serious threat for Perth in the finals. He had some impressive help from teammate John Mooney who poured in 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Todd Blanchfield had 14 points of his own. For the 36ers, four of their starters finished with double digits, as they made their way to 68 points despite no player scoring over 13 points.
This marks the fourth consecutive loss for the 36ers, with their finals hopes all but vanquished. They next travel to Christchurch Arena take on the New Zealand Breakers on Tuesday night as they look for a shot at redemption. This was also the 24th win for the season for the Wildcats as they look towards the upcoming finals series, with this victory only boosting their momentum. Their next match comes in the form of Thursday’s blockbuster clash with the Sydney Kings at RAC Arena.