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GAME REPORT

Cotton Fires as Wildcats Overpower Snakes

Vic Law threatened to take the crown off him on Friday, but three-time MVP Bryce Cotton showed he is still the most damaging player in the NBL with a classic performance against Cairns Taipans on Sunday.

Cotton scored 16 of his 31 points in a dominant third quarter en route to an emphatic 90-67 win from the Wildcats in front of 10,800 fans at RAC Arena.

Fellow import Vic Law starred in Friday’s opening win for Perth over Adelaide with 37 points but Cotton announced he was back to his best after injury robbed him of playing in last season’s NBL Grand Final series as those who predicted Perth’s demise start to write their apologies.

The Taipans, under new coach Adam Forde, elected to put import Tahjere McCall to Law to try to quell his influence to start the game, and it worked. The only problem was that the Snakes had to pick their poison of trying to shutdown either Perth import, and Cotton was the one to break free.

He finished the game with 31 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals as he helped Perth overcame an eight-point deficit midway through the second term on the back of four threes for Cairns from Kouat Noi.

Cotton said he wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone after his injury last year and he was embracing his partnership with Law with the two imports continuing to play off each other.

It's still basketball 101, you take what the defence gives you. I think the one thing with Vic is that even though he can score a high level of points, he's an unselfish player and as you saw tonight," Cotton said. 

"They did a good job of doubling him and basically just not letting him breathe, but he still made great passes and he still picked his spots and found the right times to be aggressive. So along with the scoring, his IQ comes into play, and that's tremendous for us."

The Taipans couldn’t keep the pace, though, and from that moment Perth outscored them 70 points to 39 to make it two wins from two homes games in front of the Red Army to open #NBL22 with third import Michael Frazier still to debut.

Law had 14 points while NBA Draft aspirant Luke Travers had a game-high 14 rebounds further adding to his burgeoning reputation to go with six points and three assists.

Development player Kyle Zunic again started as point guard in the absence of Mitch Norton and was particularly impressive with 13 points.

Captain Jesse Wagstaff put up 10 points, four rebounds and two steals while hitting consecutive fourth-quarter threes in his 150th game in the building.

Wildcats coach Scott Morrison praised his team for winning the rebound count 48-45.

"We were a little short-handed and we were a little undersized and we ended up out rebounding a much bigger team," Morrison said.

"That showed I think a lot of grit and was a good sign of the things that we did that, it got us over the hump."

Taipans guard Kouat Noi had 12 of his 17 points in the first quarter while Tahjere McCall had 16 points and Stephen Zimmerman 14 points and 14 rebounds but will rue some missed chances around the basket.

Taipans coach Adam Forde said the game was a grind for his side.

"We're just going to try and find ways that we can get scores. This is a bit on me too. We're a little bit too blocked up in the keyway," Forde said. 

"We’ve got to find guys on cuts and on the moves and get them shots where they can feel comfortable taking them. Once we sort of unlocked that piece that will help free it up a little bit more on the offensive end."

Taipans point guard Scott Machado, who shot 1/12 from the field, said Forde was being too hard on himself and the players had to make more of their shots.

"I think Fordey is doing a good job and putting us in the right positions. He's probably taking it a little hard saying that he needs to change it up a little bit," Machado said. 

"I feel like some shots we have we're open, especially me, and some of those shots got to go in. We just got to continue to believe in that."

Noi and Scott Machado fired the Taipans to a surprise lead in the first quarter as Noi nailed three threes and scored 12 points while Machado had five assists to see their club up 21-16 after 10 minutes.

Perth had few highlights except for Travers’ two-handed putback dunk.

New Perth coach Scott Morrison ripped into his side for not following their scouting report and allowing the Taipans to dictate the game and both their response and Snakes' defensive ace McCall being sent to the bench with a third foul saw the Wildcats take charge of the contest.

Cotton was at the heart of everything good for Perth bursting out to 15 points for the half as the home side led 39-34 at the main break.

Cotton came out even hotter in the third quarter scoring 16 points including pull-up threes and an unchallenged lay-up when the Taipans didn’t realise Perth had the inbound pass under the basket.

McCall showed some energy at both ends but the Taipans couldn’t find their offence as the turnovers mounted and the Wildcats extended their lead to 70-54 going into the final term.

The Taipans battled back to start the fourth quarter cutting the lead to seven points and winning a coach’s challenge as Stephen Zimmerman was incorrectly called for a foul on Cotton.

But with Cotton getting all the attention, Vic Law found room for two open threes to effectively end the contest.

The Wildcats remain at home to host the Brisbane Bullets next Sunday but before that the Taipans will be making their home debut in #NBL22 hosting the Tasmania JackJumpers on Saturday evening.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 1

PERTH WILDCATS 90 (Cotton 31, Law 14, Zunic 13)

CAIRNS TAIPANS 67 (Noi 17, McCall 16, Zimmerman 14) 

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