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Illawarra Hawks - ABC wrap up

The new-look Illawarra Hawks proved there are blue skies ahead with a sparkling three-game display to win the Loggins-Bruton Cup at the inaugural Australian Basketball Challenge in Brisbane. Coach Rob Beveridge had one of the busiest off-seasons of any NBL coach following the departure of two of the league's most prodigious talents in Kevin Lisch (Sydney) and Kirk Penney (New Zealand), but has expertly retooled with added depth. With the star duo of Penney (third in scoring last season) and Lisch (fifth) contributing 39.6 points per game, questions were naturally asked over the competitiveness of the new era Hawks coming into this campaign. The 'Big Three' was quickly stripped down to just AJ Ogilvy, but Beveridge has responded to form an even quicker backcourt with import guards Rotnei Clarke and Marvelle Harris, along with former Townsville Croc Mitch Norton. Harris' name says it all… he was a marvel throughout the four-day tournament, with all the skills on show both defensively and offensively, and using his freakish 206-centimetre wingspan to make plays others simply can't. With his combination of size (193 centimetres, 94 kilograms), defensive ability and point-scoring prowess, Harris looks like the perfect utility who can guard opposition small forwards in a small line-up while making plays and hitting open shots if Beveridge decides to play bigger. NBL MVP of 2013/14 Rotnei Clarke is still brilliant, while the additions of fast-rising power forward Nick Kay and monster centre Michael Holyfield provide the necessary bulk to complement star centre AJ Ogilvy, who often played limited minutes last season due to foul trouble. From boards to screens and everything in between, they were physically hammered throughout the season and all told, it probably cost them a championship. With much-improved depth this season, these Hawks should actually be better than last year's semi-final team, but there is no question the league has followed suit. It took Illawarra a while into their first game to find an offensive groove, but started to stretch out in the third quarter against Zhejiang and soon enough they had rediscovered the run-and-gun style that made them the league's most entertaining team last season. In a sign of their sheer offensive dominance, the Hawks scored below 20 points in a quarter just once all tournament – the third period against Perth Wildcats. Here is the breakdown of their three games: GAME 1: ILLAWARRA HAWKS 123 V ZHEJIANG GOLDEN BULLS 75 Q1: Hawks 30-28 Q2: Hawks 25-20 Q3: Hawks 33-14 Q4: Hawks 35-13 Harris 22pts, 3stl; R. Clarke 19pts, 2stl; A. Ogilvy 15pts, 8reb GAME 2: ILLAWARRA HAWKS 98 V PERTH WILDCATS 77 Q1: Hawks 37-19 Q2: Hawks 24-23 Q3: Wildcats 26-14 Q4: Hawks 23-9 Harris 19pts, 6reb, 3ast; R. Clarke 17pts, 4reb; C. Ellis 16pts GAME 3: ILLAWARRA HAWKS 94 V MELBOURNE UNITED 86 Q1: United 26-25 Q2: United 26-22 Q3: Hawks 20-17 Q4: Hawks 27-17 Ogilvy 24pts, 9reb, 5ast, 2stl; M. Harris 16pts; C. Ellis 9pts, 7reb, 3ast The Hawks swept all three games, losing just three quarters in the process. It may be pre-season, but defence and depth appear to be the distinctions between this season and last – all 11 Hawks played at least 10 minutes in every game, apart from the United clash where Kevin White did not take the court.  
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