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GAME REPORT

Perth's Big Three Overpower Hawks in the 'Gong

Todd Blanchfield sent a reminder that he could be the third part of the big three at the Perth Wildcats alongside Vic Law and Bryce Cotton with the trio the major factor in the 'Cats beating the Illawarra Hawks 94-78 in Wollongong on Saturday night.

Blanchfield has had an injury-interrupted start to #NBL22, but he was back in familiar surroundings at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Saturday night, and made the most of his minutes to help Perth to the 16-point win over the Hawks.

Cotton, Blanchfield and Law might have only combined for six of the Wildcats' 13 points in the first quarter with the Hawks holding a double-figure led, but the Perth guns soon changed that.

Law was the first to make a statement with a dominant second quarter made up of 15 points before Cotton hit three triples in the third quarter with Blanchfield adding eight points of his own.

That helped Perth turn a five-point deficit at the half into a nine-point three quarter-time lead.

It was then Blanchfield and Cotton who combined for a game-clinching run of nine straight points midway through the fourth quarter for Perth to improve to a 6-2 record to make up for Tuesday's loss in Adelaide.

Law (22 points, seven rebounds), Cotton (24 points, four assists on 4/6 from deep) and Blanchfield (20 points, 3/8 from downtown) combined for 66 of the 94 Perth points shooting a combined 22/43 from the floor and 9/19 from beyond the arc. 

Michael Frazier contributed strongly too with nine points, 11 rebounds and five assists while Mitch Norton is finding his feet with five points and six assists.

Wildcats coach Scott Morrison didn’t like another slow start, but saw a lot to like after quarter-time.

"If anybody knows the solution to our slow starts, I would love to hear some suggestions, but as long as we play like that the rest of the game like we made up for it tonight, it didn’t hurt," Morrison said.

"But hopefully we can fix that for next week. Everyone that played contributed a great deal and different guys kind of got hot at different times. That's the benefit of having close to a full roster which we haven’t really had all season. 

"We saw the benefits of that tonight and we just have to make sure we play the right way, move that ball and get everyone lots of touches so when we need them to step up they have a good rhythm."

Illawarra has now lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and three of their past four to slip to 4-3 a quarter of the way into their #NBL22 campaign.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Justinian Jessup both top-scored for the Hawks with 17 points each while Tyler Harvey finished with 11 points and four assists, and Sam Froling eight points and nine rebounds.

Hawks coach Brian Goorjian was worried about the Vic Law and Bryce Cotton match ups coming into the game, and had good reason as it turned out.

"We did have a good start and going into this game I was really nervous about the match ups on Vic Law and Bryce," Goorjian said.

"I thought our set up defensively with Melbourne was better for us but Delly did what Delly did. Tonight, those two scared me and how we matched up to them was a concern. In the start of the game we had them in check but from that point on we struggled to control that. 

"I thought as a coach and organisation they did a real good job of creating mismatches with those two, forcing a Coenraad or somebody to switch onto Bryce or forcing a mismatch on Vic. Then I thought AC struggled with Vic in the second quarter. 

"Big picture for us after last year, these two games just say a lot about where we are all the way around as an organisation, team and staff. We're just not there yet."

After a couple of free-throws to Bryce Cotton, it was the Hawks who got off to a fast start beginning with a Justinian Jessup triple to kickstart a run of nine straight points including a Tyler Harvey alley-oop pass to Antonius Cleveland in transition after a turnover.

The Hawks continued to make the Wildcats pay for turning it over with another Sam Froling finish at the rack before Xavier Rathan-Mayes gave Illawarra an extra spark with a couple of quick buckets to see the home team up 23-13 after one.

Vic Law was scoreless to quarter-time for Perth and Cotton had just those free-throws, but that soon changed. Law came out to start the second period with two quick threes, but Rathan-Mayes was feeling it up the other end too with another quick six points.

That saw the Hawks' lead back out to 12 points but Law wasn’t done yet. He stepped inside the arc to hit from mid-range before Cotton's first couple of baskets too. Law then hit three more jumpers as the two Wildcats studs went on an individual 10-0 run to make it a three-point ball game.

However, Illawarra steadied including an open three from Harvey to still be up 41-36 at the half despite both teams shooting a combined 5/26 from beyond the arc.

The Wildcats began to turn that around to start the second half with three-point makes to Mitch Norton and Cotton before they went on a run of 13 straight points with things dramatically drying up for the home team.

The 'Cats took full toll including another triple from Cotton and an and-one finish from Matt Hodgson. They then finished the quarter with another three to Cotton and two to former Hawk Todd Blanchfield to be on top 66-57 by three quarter-time.

Jessup sparked Illawarra to start the fourth quarter with five quick points to make it a four-point game, but the Wildcats would have none of it after Tim Coenraad brough the Hawks back within one.

Blanchfield turned a three into a four-point play as part of a 12-0 run capped off with a three from captain Jesse Wagstaff that locked away the eventual 16-point win.

The Hawks now remain at home to host the Adelaide 36ers on Monday and then with a return encounter back at WIN Entertainment Centre with the Wildcats on Thursday.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 8

ILLAWARRA HAWKS 78 (Rathan-Mayes 17, Jessup 17, Harvey 11)

PERTH WILDCATS 94 (Cotton 24, Law 22, Blanchfield 20) 

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