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Perth Wildcats v NZ Breakers Game Preview

Perth Wildcats v New Zealand Breakers When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Friday 14 October Where: Perth Arena Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ Always good After yet another epic clash between the Wildcats and New Zealand last season, Perth coach Trevor Gleeson pointed out that match-ups between these two great clubs meet they are “always good battles”. “It doesn’t matter where we are on the ladder. Even when the Breakers didn’t make the playoffs it was still close games, we just have that rivalry, it’s a good healthy rivalry,” he said. Last season these teams met seven times, splitting the first six split three-apiece – with five of those decided by single figures – before Perth finally got one up on their two-time grand final tormentor with a 23-point pasting in the 2016 decider. Only 10 players from that series are likely to take the Perth Arena floor this Friday when the rivalry resumes, however new heroes are already starting to emerge, most notably the Wildcats’ Round 1 game-saver Jaron Johnson. “Jaron probably didn’t have a great first half but he was certainly the catalyst to get us back in it,” Gleeson said after his import’s 26-point outburst. “He made some big plays, and it’s the confidence teammates have in each other, they're giving the ball in the right situations.” Perth went mighty close to starting the season 0-2 but finished their overtime win against the Taipans with the wind in their sails. “I’ve seen some stuff in the last quarter that made me really happy, the guys were working hard defensively to get stops, they were pushing the ball and they were rebounding, that’s Wildcats basketball,” Gleeson said. “Hopefully it catapults us into a good position to start the year well, this is a league where you don’t want to fall in a hole.” Front court wars Last season the Wildcats had a size advantage inside against New Zealand, but with Nate Jawai now in Cairns, Tom Jervis in Brisbane and Matt Knight injured the dynamic has changed, new pivots Jameel McKay and Angus Brandt quality players but on the smaller side for NBL centres. McKay, Brandt, Jesse Wagstaff and Shawn Redhage will be up against the quartet of Mika Vukona, Alex Pledger, Rob Loe and Akil Mitchell, who were rock solid inside against Melbourne as they won the frontcourt rebounding battle 21-14 and drew 14 of United’s 22 fouls. “The bigs I thought just worked extremely well together,” coach Paul Henare said. “We’ve got four really good bigs, you just keep rolling them in and you have confidence they can do the job. I take my hat off to those four guys who just came out and battle really hard all night.” Henare couldn’t hide his delight with the NBL debut of Rob Loe, who brought his quality all-court game and provided a response to lingering questions about his toughness. “I thought he played out of his skin. He was physical inside, he battled on the boards and when he was on the floor the score was going the right way,” Henare said. Indeed, the Breakers outscored Melbourne by 30 points in Loe’s 20 minutes on court as he simply filled the role his team needed. “I’ve coached Robbie a long time now with the national team, and been around him a long time,” Henare said. “I have probably the highest expectations of him than any other player because he’s smart, he knows the game, he knows who he is as a player, and you develop a level of trust because you just know what you’re going to get out of him.” Another high-IQ performance from Loe could be very important in the cauldron of The Jungle, as will another energetic effort from reserve power forward Akil Mitchell, who had six offensive rebounds against Melbourne to go with two steals and two blocks, including the play of the game. “That chase-down block he had, that was pretty remarkable,” point guard Ben Woodside said. “He brings a lot of energy, he’s always attacking the offensive glass and he’s really active. When you’ve got a guy that’s active, that’s mobile and can defend, obviously it really helps the team.” All aboard Subduing Mitchell and Vukona on the glass is one of the main missions for Perth’s bigs, which will enable them to limit scoring opportunities for the Breakers’ perimeter crew of Kirk Penney, Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie. Just as importantly, a strong Wildcats defensive rebounding effort will allow McKay, Johnson and Casey Prather to run and attack the rim in transition, vital after the off-season departures of half-court targets Jawai and Jermaine Beal. Coach Gleeson makes no secret that he wants his team downhill skiing off the defensive glass so they can use their athleticism to advantage. “We go through patches where we’re not the team we should be, but I liked the style, we played an up-tempo game and we were giving it a real crack on the defensive end,” he said. “We want to rebound and run, and that plays to our strength. We get out of control a little bit but that’s the growing part, it should be a fun ride.”
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