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Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks Game Preview

Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Friday 21 October Where: Perth Arena Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ Hoodoo hunting Four times Rob Beveridge has taken Illawarra back to his old stomping ground in the west and four times they have fallen, by a collective total of 79 points. Of course, the last time the Hawks triumphed in Perth was more than a decade ago, so it can hardly be described as Bevo’s curse, but it’s a hoodoo the team will want to break Friday night when the teams meet at Perth Arena without their coach who will be attending his son's graduation. While the final margin may not suggest it, Illawarra came within touching distance of a mighty upset in Game 1 of last year’s semi-final, beating the Wildcats in the rebounding battle for the first time all year with AJ Ogilvy a force and eight other Hawks pulling in multiple boards. They repeated the dose in Game 2 and skinned the ‘Cats alive, making it no surprise when Beveridge retooled in the off-season with board-hungry players like Marvelle Harris, Nick Kay and Michael Holyfield. Last week, however, the Hawks seemed to forget their new-found paint potency, spraying up 57 three-pointers in two Round 2 losses and making just 12. “We always (about) play to what are your strengths as a player, and we went away from that,” Beveridge said. “We had people taking shots when they probably shouldn’t have been taking shots, we weren’t getting the ball inside when we were cold from the outside.” In comes Ingram The Wildcats have also been concerned about their perimeter marksmanship, second worst in the competition at 29 per cent to leave them grounded as the NBL’s lowest-scoring team at a lowly 74.7ppg. Despite shooting an impressive 6-of-10 from the arc, import Jaron Johnson was cut to improve Perth’s long-range game, replaced by Andre Ingram, the man with more three-point makes than anyone else in NBA D-League history. “We thought we needed a really good threat from the perimeter,” Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said. “We can stretch the floor and open it up, and hopefully that will create some avenues for our guards to attack the basket. “He’s got deep three-point range and that’s something that we need help with.” The move is a gamble, with the 30-year-old Ingram never having played overseas before, but his prowess from outside will force Illawarra to change their defensive planning, potentially opening up more driving lanes for Casey Prather. Missing Mitch The Hawks were simply unable to cover both Melbourne’s penetration and perimeter weapons last Sunday as Todd Blanchfield cruelly punished their repeated breakdowns. The only line-up that bared any real defensive teeth was an oversized one with Tim Coenraad at shooting guard and Cody Ellis at small forward, but the Hawks’ trademark pressure simply couldn’t get the job done. “We’re so up and down,” Beveridge said. “Sometimes you look at it and say that was a great defensive possession and then the next one we’re giving up open shots. It’s just the consistency at the moment which is a little bit frustrating.” Beveridge admitted the Hawks desperately missed Mitch Norton’s on-ball defence, which he said is “as good as you get as a guard”, and forward Oscar Forman agreed. “He’s a guy that brings a lot of the stuff we missed tonight. What we were down is exactly the player he is,” Forman said. Norton is expected to return against Perth, and if he can lead a defensive effort that forces the Wildcats into contested shots, Illawarra have the rebounding weapons to unleash Rotnei Clarke and Harris in transition, and that could well result in a winning score. Great at the grind However, if the game become a half-court slog – as these teams’ meetings in Perth usually do – the Wildcats will fancy their chances with their post-based game, especially if Matt Knight makes his return as expected. They’ve also got an underrated guard making critical plays in Jarrod Kenny, who stepped up to the mark again last Friday against the Breakers. “He hit that big three in the corner. We joke around that it’s Kenny’s corner, he loves that position,” Gleeson said. While Kenny hit some big shots last season, he is playing a far more prominent role this year and being rewarded with extra minutes. “I love his confidence out there. He plays against Damo every day and he beats Damo to the rim, so we said why not do it under the bright lights,” Gleeson said. “Damo came back after the first eight games (last season) and he went to the back seat and we said no, you’re a better player than that, let’s be aggressive … now it’s just to be consistent.” That’s Gleeson’s message for his entire squad, well aware the slip-ups they had against the Breakers could cost them a pile of points against a high-octane team like Illawarra. “In a couple of games we’ve had teams in a position where we could … make it really hard for them to come back and we just relax,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure when we’re in front like that we’ve got the foot on the gas and we’re not letting the other team back in because the talent in this league’s too good to do that.”
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