R13 Preview: SE Melbourne Phoenix vs Perth Wildcats

When: 8pm (AEDT), Saturday 26 February 2022

John Cain Arena, Melbourne

ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sports NZ

Who won the last time?
Perth 101
(Travers 24, Cotton 21, Frazier 14, Norton 14, Wagstaff 14) d South East Melbourne 79 (Munford 18, Creek 17, Ashley 12) – Round 10, John Cain Arena, Melbourne

The COVID-affected Phoenix bolted out of the Round 10 gates, 15 ahead early in the second after Mitch Creek, Xavier Munford and Zhou Qi piled on 18 points in five minutes to start the game. But South East Melbourne got some home freezing in the Fire Pit and the Cats capitalised, forcing seven second-quarter turnovers with their physical D to turn the game on its head with a 29-4 run, Luke Travers the chief destroyer with 11 of his 24 points in that devastating burst.

What happened last start?

Travers was superb again last round but the Wildcats didn’t have any defensive answers for the Kings. Offensively there was plenty to like, the speed of Bryce Cotton and Mitch Norton creating open looks as the 'Cats banged down 17 triples and got to the foul line 23 times, but Perth have now lost three of their past four games with the defensive end a major concern.

South East Melbourne put on their own offensive masterpiece against the Bullets, shooting 51 per cent from the field, 43 per cent from range, dishing 18 assists to six turnovers and winning points from turnovers 21-5, yet they only won by four. That’s because their interior D was a sieve with Qi and Brandon Ashley watching on, something Perth exploited last time around.

Who’s in form?

Luke Travers – While he was quiet against United, his two games surrounding that against South East Melbourne and Sydney delivered 40 points in 45 minutes on 57 per cent from the field and 6/11 from deep, alongside 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Travers hit 4/6 triples against the Phoenix, his ability to do so from the centre position exploiting Zhou Qi’s rim protection.

Ryan Broekhoff & Cam Gliddon – While South East Melbourne were dubbed sharpshooters pre-season, they’ve been anything but most of the year. That’s because Broekhoff and Gliddon shot a combined 23/87 across the opening 11 rounds. They went a blistering 10/13 against Brisbane – their teammates hit 0/10 – as the Phoenix scored a season-high 98 points.

Who needs to be?

Matt Hodgson – Perhaps embarrassed on return to the scene of his slap-happy crimes, big Hodgson could barely have been worse against Sydney, registering a -10 in 12 minutes as he missed defensive assignments, failed to protect the rim and was a non-factor offensively. If Zhou Qi finally gets a good run with the whistle, Perth will need Hodgy at his defensive best.

Brandon Ashley – Scott Morrison loves to go small, but if Ashley stays out of foul trouble that plays into his hands. The uber-versatile big man has poured in 36 points in 43 minutes the past three games on 13/17 shooting, and took Perth for 12 points, nine boards and three assists in 24 minutes in Round 10. He averaged 19.3ppg at 71 per cent against the 'Cats in NBL20.

Who’s statting up?

 - In Round 10, Zhou Qi and Brandon Ashley were whistled for eight fouls in 35 minutes, scoring 16 points at 88 per cent and 13 rebounds in that time. South East Melbourne were -18 in the 5:11 both bigs were off the floor

 - In their past three losses, Perth have conceded 95.7ppg at 48 per cent and 11.3 triples at 37 per cent. Across the other 10 games their defensive numbers are 79.2ppg at 41 per cent and 6.9 treys at 26 per cent

 - The Wildcats are the number one ranked offensive team, sitting first in points (89.5), three-point makes and percentage (11.5 at 35%), second in assists, steals and turnovers, and third in free-throw attempts and offensive boards

 - South East Melbourne gave up 68 per cent two-point shooting to Brisbane last round. They allow 52 per cent on twos in losses and are -28 on points in the paint, compared to 46 per cent and +126 on PiPs in victories

Who’s matching up?

Xavier Munford v Bryce Cotton – The MVP has scored 64 points in his past 70 minutes, registering his first back-to-back 30-point NBL games courtesy of 42 field-goal attempts, including 25 from range. Of course, Perth lost both games and are 10-7 the past two seasons when Bryce takes 20 or more shots, but 20-6 when he dishes five dimes or more.

The Phoenix are 7-2 when Munford scores 14 or more and 6-2 when he deals four or more assists, his ability to penetrate and draw defenders unique amongst the Phoenix guards. He was 5/8 at the cup last time against Perth, but had a horror night with six sloppy turnovers. The X-man averages 3.3 cough-ups in South East Melbourne losses compared to 1.6 in wins.

Who’s talking the talk?

Cam Gliddon finally let his game do the talking last Saturday against Brisbane.

“It’s been a few games in a row now where my body’s felt great. Before that I was running up and down and didn’t feel right,” he said.

“The Melbourne United game I came in and probably passed up a couple of shots, I just had the focus tonight if I was open it was going up, no matter what.”

He certainly achieved that, going 6/6 from the arc and 7/7 overall to hit 20 points for the first time since ANZAC Day last year.

“The first shot he took, I had some sort of fist pump inside my body, I felt this, ‘Yes’, just the fact he released it, he had his legs under him, the result didn’t even matter for me. It was just, ‘That looks like Glizzo’,” coach Simon Mitchell said.

“He’s had a horrible run, going into pre-season he’s coming off surgery, it took a while for that to recover, then it took a while for the confidence to come back.

“Then two times he’s been sidelined personally with COVID and as a close contact, and then the team was sidelined as well, so his run this year from rehabilitation to now has been nothing short of treacherous.

“We were waiting on Glizzo to come back. Our team really needs his shooting. We've been really poor shooting the ball most of this season and he’s a big piece of what we are. We've been patient, we've had to wait for him to be physically in a position to do what he can do.”

It was perfect timing against the Bullets, with the Phoenix finishing a run of six games in 14 days and their stars running in mud.

“We've got a deep team, especially when we’re healthy, we can put anybody out there and they’ll do a job,” Gliddon said.

“We rely on that and I think it showed tonight where some of our usual big stat-getters, maybe a bit tired, maybe foul trouble, but some other guys can step up.”

One of those continuing to step up was Brandon Ashley, as he builds towards the form that saw him compile 18 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals in his most recent NBA game.

“I thought Brandon was really good,” Mitchell said.

“He’s a really, really high-level player, we’re really fortunate to have been able to bring him in.”

The Wildcats struggled with Sydney’s NBA-level talent last week in a game that was officiated tightly and allowed the stars to shine.

While that was great for the fans, Perth’s inability to do the basics left Scott Morrison fuming post-game, so expect the Wildcats to try and up the physicality from tip this week to blunt the penetration of Ashley, Mitch Creek and Xavier Munford, who shot 15/26 from inside last time the teams met.

“We gave up two lay-ups to start the fourth quarter when we had guys that were able to get back and protect the rim and at least make the shot more difficult,” he said.

“We had a couple of times where we had weakside guys not pulled in, got beat on the strongside and had no one there to help protect the rim.

“It sounds simple but lay-ups are the easiest shot in basketball and back home I remember a coach saying – he coached junior high girls basketball – if you just get more lay-ups than the other team you win.

“It’s kind of the same in this league too, and any league, if you get more lay-ups you’ve probably got a good chance of winning. Defensively you should never give up a lay-up uncontested so that’s why I'm disappointed, we gave up easy buckets.”

After the Phoenix burst clear in their Round 10 meeting, Perth’s D was ferocious, forcing turnovers, protecting the paint and generating run as they dominated the final 29 minutes 84-47.

“We lost our way, we had a few turnovers in that patch that, I think we had maybe five turnovers that contributed to eight or 10 points they had, they also picked up loose balls and offensive rebounds that also got them cheapies, and then they got to the foul line as well,” South East Melbourne assistant coach Judd Flavell said.  

“We’ve got to look after the basketball, that’s for sure. We can’t have wasted possessions and gift the ball to the opposition.

“We've got to tidy up the rebounds, it’s not rocket science for us, it’s going to be such an easy review for this one, those are the areas that when we do those areas well, our offence is flowing, it’s ticking, the scoreboard is ticking over.”

There are plenty of match-ups to delight in this one – Cotton v Izayah Le'afa, Munford v Michael Frazier, Creek v Vic Law, Ashley v Travers and Zhou Qi v Matt Hodgson.

Whoever gets the better of them will enter the second half of NBL22 in second place.


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