R10 Preview: Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks

When: 3.00pm (AEDT), Sunday 21 March

Where: John Cain Arena, Melbourne

Broadcast: SBS Viceland; Sky Sports NZ; SBS On Demand; Twitch


The last time

Illawarra 77 (Harvey 23, Bairstow 15, Jessup 13) d Melbourne 69 (McCarron 16, Goulding 13, Landale 12) – March 13, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

It was only last Saturday when the two teams met during the NBL Cup in Melbourne and it was an impressive performance from the Hawks to hold United to 69 points for the game to come away with the eight-point victory. That meant that Illawarra ended the NBL Cup on a two-game winning streak while Melbourne finished losing three straight having come into it undefeated.

The Hawks had been struggling through the early stages of the NBL Cup, but they put that behind them backing up a big win over Sydney with this win over Melbourne. But it took until late in the game for Illawarra to take over. United was 10 points up four minutes into the third quarter, but the Hawks finished the term with a 7-3 run before winning the final period 21 points to nine. Tyler Harvey delivered 23 points, Cam Bairstow 15, Justinian Jessup 13 and captain AJ Ogilvy eight as the Hawks finished the game on a 28-12 run over the final 16 minutes.


The now

Things have only got worse for Melbourne since that last meeting with United now on a four-game losing streak as they return home on Sunday to host an Illawarra team that dominated them over those last 16 minutes just eight days ago.

Melbourne entered the NBL Cup as the only undefeated team in the league but they finished it with a three-game losing streak and that turned into four consecutive defeats after a heavy loss in Sydney against the Kings on Friday night. The Kings handed United the 103-75 defeat with Melbourne unable to slow Sydney defensively while having a tough night offensively. 

United shot just 39 per cent from the field while going 8/26 from three-point range and getting to the foul line only nine times. They did have 13 offensive rebounds but 15 turnovers offset those and perhaps most telling about their lack of energy was the zero fast break points while they conceded 17 of them to the Kings.

For a team still considered championship favourites, this four-game losing streak is concerning and United will still be without Scotty Hopson and Jack White for Sunday's game but it's the players available they'll be expecting a big pick up from.

Illawarra started the NBL Cup by losing three of the opening four matches having come into Melbourne losing two of the last three games so that momentum from starting the new season and life under Brian Goorjian with four consecutive wins in Queensland had dissipated.

The Hawks had to turn things around and they did briefly to beat the Adelaide 36ers but three days later was their worst performance of the season against the Perth Wildcats. That was make or break time after that, and the Hawks responded to blow the Kings away for a 20-point win before following up with the win over Melbourne to close their time at the NBL Cup on a high.

Illawarra is now back to Melbourne to play United again on Sunday but they have had the week back home in the 'Gong to freshen up.

Even though Cam Bairstow has been ruled out and won't play, the depth is strong at the Hawks and they'll go in confident of extending their winning streak to three and handing United a fifth consecutive loss which would have been unheard of coming into #NBL21.


The stats

- Illawarra has a perfect 5-0 record this season when they have shot the ball at above 45 per cent from the field in games. When they have gone at below 45 per cent their record is just 4-6.

- Melbourne is on a four-game losing streak for the first time in coach Dean Vickerman's time at the helm. The 28-point loss to Sydney on Friday was their biggest ever defeat to the Kings as well.

- In their opening 11 games of #NBL21, Melbourne was conceding only 82 points a game to their opponents but over the last four which have all been losses they have given up an average of 93.2 points including a season worst 103 against Sydney on Friday.


The key men

Chris Goulding – Like any shooter, there are going to be nights where it's just not falling and Friday night was one of those for the United captain. He finished with just two points on 1/8 shooting from the field and 0/4 from deep. He did have six assists but he wasn’t able to get himself to the foul line either. Without Scotty Hopson especially to take some of that offensive workload off, he does need to find a way to still contribute strongly with good energy whether his shot is falling or not. He has to set the tone for the team and if he shows early on Sunday that he is making a stand and won't accept a fifth straight loss, his team will likely come along for the ride.

Sam Froling – Coach Brian Goorjian has backed him in as the starter all season and he's largely delivered for the most part including a career night with 20 points and six rebounds against the Sydney Kings. But now he'll need to stand up against Melbourne on Sunday especially in the absence of Cam Bairstow who delivered 15 points for the Hawks in last Saturday's win. He'll need to spend time guarding Jock Landale as well so will need to be switched on at both ends, but it's going to be important that he keeps Landale occupied by being active at the offensive end and aggressive as well.


The quotes

Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman didn’t hide his disappointment after Friday night's loss in Sydney and it's easy to understand why. But he and his team have quickly turned their attention to a bounce back performance back home against the Hawks.

"This season is totally different to any before and how you practice, prepare and move on from games is different," Vickerman said.

"It's going to keep coming because we have to fit in another 20 or so games in over a short period of time so there's not going to be a week where you can go and get healthy or absolutely scout a team perfectly. 

"You're going to have to be really good with your pre-scout, really good with a short amount of information and what you can get to guys. But you need to have a really solid base about the way you defend and attack, and you have to make small adjustments from that. We'll look at the Hawks now as we fly home and get ready for them."

But reflecting on Friday's game, to be largely beaten because of a lack of energy and to be outhustled and beaten in the effort areas isn’t something that Vickerman will stand for.

"It was hugely disappointing. After the first five minutes where I thought we had good intent after not being great in the first five minutes of games for a while now so it was a good enough start. But after that first five minutes it was something like 18-6 in the next five minutes and at that point it was a long way to try and come back," Vickerman said.

"What was the cause of it? Certainly makeable shots for us that we didn’t make and their ability to just grab it and run, and create numbers on the break that we weren’t able to get back in front of. That created layups, it created three ball opportunities, it created fouling situations and we were a step slow. We just couldn’t keep up with the pace that they ran out for that next 10 minutes of the game. From there we were well on the backfoot trying to come back from that. 

"We rushed a few shots to try and get it back quicker and that only snowballed the effect of allowing them to get out and run. We have to be way better than that even with three guys down and a flu going through the team. There was just a lack of energy from this group and we talked about needing everybody to make good contributions, and I thought out of our main eight guys we had three passengers and they were poor passengers."

Illawarra coach Brian Goorjian was delighted with the stand his team took against the Sydney Kings coming off that horror show against the Perth Wildcats. They then backed it up against Melbourne to close the NBL Cup and he's hoping they can keep the momentum going.

"It was the Sydney game where you know when you're building something you are going to take some punches. But I just thought with this group right before the game, I was tired and I'm not even playing and I had to dig deep to bring energy to the sideline," Goorjian said.

"So I told them we're going to find out about the culture of this thing tonight, and we're going to find out against Melbourne. Where we went in that Sydney game is special and then you're thinking at eight o'clock at night with Melbourne having lost a couple they're going to need this one desperately, and it was a character test for us. 

"So I told them to feel real good about themselves when they got on the plane back to Wollongong. I keep talking about this special group to the community and I know it's not perfect and we're going to get whacked and get beat, but I just think 15 games in with 14 on the road, and going to Perth and Melbourne now, we're being challenged in every sense of the word. There's no excuses and backward steps from the group, and I think that's something to be proud of."

Star Hawks point guard Tyler Harvey is looking forward to seeing how the group continues to rise to the challenge of another road game, and continuing to keep on improving.

"We're used to being on the road and it's challenging, but we have the right group of guys to get through that sort of stuff. Coach keeps us really focused on our job and our goal for this year, and we take the way one day at a time approach and that's what we've been doing this whole time," Harvey said.

"I feel like as a team we're growing everyday through the challenges and the ups and downs. It's important to learn and grow from those, and I think we're doing a good job of that. We know how good we can be and throughout a season you're going to go through things, and I just try to not get caught up too much in wins and losses. 

"I feel like that mentality is big for us because we're young and have a lot to improve on still, and every day we try to do something to get better. We learn a lot from our losses and try to go in the next game and figure those out, and improve on those."

There will be added interested on-looker live at the game too with Golden State Warriors scout, and Santa Cruz Warriors assistant coach Michael Lee in town to watch Warriors draftee Justinian Jessup in action for the Hawks.

"We are very excited to have Michael here paying close attention to the development of Justinian," said Hawks president and co-owner Dorry Kordahi. 

"He has been a fantastic addition to the Hawks roster and we believe the best is still to come under coach Goorjian."


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