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R14 Preview: Melbourne v Illawarra

Who: Melbourne United v Illawarra Hawks When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 7 January Where: State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Illawarra 102 (Lisch 26, Penney 25, Ogilvy 15) d Melbourne 87 (Goulding 25, Kickert 21, Warrick 13), Round 9, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong THE MATCH-UP Chris Goulding v Kevin Lisch – Two of the best one-on-one scorers in the NBL renew acquaintances after spending time together in Spain. Lisch is on a tear, while Goulding busted out of a mini-slump with a festive 23points per game at 59 per cent over the Christmas break. THE STATS In the past six games, Lisch has averaged 22.7 ppg at 56 per cent from the field and 47 per cent from the arc, along with 4.3 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals. In two games against the Hawks, Goulding has scored 51 points in 71 minutes, shot 53 per cent from the field, grabbed nine rebounds and dished off seven assists. THE STORY Hawks guard Kevin Lisch was a clutch scorer at St Louis University and then the Perth Wildcats, proving time and again his ability to create and make big shots. But when he decided to try his hand in Europe, things were very different. “When I first got to Spain the coach said I don’t care about your scoring, I want you to just run the team,” Lisch said. While for some players that pigeon-holing may have been frustrating, Lisch treated is as “a new kind of challenge”. “It’s a totally different style of game … but it teaches you a lot and when you come back over here the reins have been loosened a bit and it’s nice to have a bit of freedom,” he said. “It’s something I wasn’t used to but you learn a whole lot overall about the game, how to manage guys, what plays to call and in that regard it gave me a different perspective.” Another man who went through that same learning process was Melbourne’s Chris Goulding, a teammate of Lisch at Spanish club CAI Zaragoza. “I didn’t really know him so much in the NBL before, besides the guy with these flowing locks, but when I got over there he was just a great teammate,” Lisch said. “We’ve had a lot of fun together, he keeps things nice and loose, but with that being said he’s one of the hardest workers, he was always staying after practice and working on things.” Goulding had stretches where he dominated offensively, but times where his jump-shot wouldn’t fall and his minutes subsequently did. “His maturity throughout the season really grew, because that is Europe, some games guys will be given the green light, and some days you miss a few shots and you don’t play much,” Lisch said. “I think he did a great job of weathering the storms over there, hopefully as did I, and it was kind of fun to help each other out.” This Thursday in Melbourne the pair collide as opposition shooting guards, and Lisch is ready for anything. “He hits some of the toughest shots, shots that most guys in the league can’t hit. He’s extremely difficult to guard, he’s got a lot better off the dribble,” Lisch said. “He’s sneaky athletic as well so it will be fun going up against him, it’s always a challenge against Chris and hopefully we get under each other’s skin a little bit.” THE WRAP Illawarra seem to have cured their possession woes, forcing opponents into 57 turnovers in the past three games while giving up just 28 offensive rebounds. For Melbourne that’s a work in progress, but the good news is Goulding, Daniel Kickert and Hakim Warrick are firing offensively, combining for 123 points in two games over the holiday period. United and Illawarra rank first and third respectively in caring for the ball, and which team can push the tempo while continuing that frugal form will have an advantage, with both sides possessing multiple weapons in the open court. In the half-court, are Goulding, Stephen Holt and Todd Blanchfield up for the defensive fight? Can Kickert, Warrick and Majok Majok help on ball-screens while covering the rolling presence of Ogilvy? If not, Illawarra will continue the form that’s produced 102.2ppg in their past seven games.
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