R14 Preview: Perth Wildcats v NZ Breakers

When: 5.00pm (AEST), Sunday 18 April 

Where: RAC Arena, Perth

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

The last time
Perth 85 (Cotton 34, Blanchfield 19, Norton 11) d New Zealand 79 (Delany 25, Webster 11, Loe 10, Abercrombie 10) – Round 13, Silverdome, Launceston

What a game this was only five days ago in the continuing story of this remarkable rivalry between the two teams that have shared 10 of the past 11 NBL championships.

It wasn’t his most spectacular performance but one of his more remarkable as Bryce Cotton shook off some rare shooting woes to still play game winner for the Wildcats in overtime in Launceston.

It was the first time since 2005 that the NBL had held a game in Tasmania and what a spectacle it turned out to be. The Wildcats were coming off their nine-game winning streak ending in Adelaide on Saturday night and it looked as though for much of the night the Breakers were going to hand them consecutive losses.

New Zealand led 23-9 by quarter-time and still led by half-time with Tom Abercrombie doing a superb job limiting Bryce Cotton to five points and 1/6 shooting. Cotton decided to turn driver with his shot falling and he helped Perth get on top, but still with new Breakers arrivals William McDowell-White and Levi Randolph hitting big shots, New Zealand still looked on track.

In fact with 1.7 seconds to go. McDowell-White was at the line and hit the first free-throw to make it 71-69. He attempted to miss the second but it still banked in allowing Perth to call the timeout. Despite Cotton having missed his previous 17 three-point attempts, he made a stunning leaning in three on the buzzer to force overtime. 

And in extra time, he sent the daggers into the Breakers as the Wildcats won 85-79 and despite not looking likely to hit a shot most of the night, Cotton was remarkable with 34 points still on 15/17 from the foul line. He went 9/22 from the floor and 1/7 from deep.

It was a tough loss for the Breakers to swallow and once again Finn Delany was outstanding with 25 points and nine rebounds. Tom Abercrombie reached his 350-game milestone and celebrated by passing Kirk Penney as the club's all-time three-point shot maker while delivering 10 points on top of his stifling defence on Cotton.

And now just five days later they do it all over again on the other side of the country in Perth on Sunday.


The now

Since that game on Tuesday in Launceston both the Breakers and Wildcats have played again, and both recorded victories leading into Sunday's rematch at RAC Arena.

The Breakers were next up against the Brisbane Bullets also in Launceston on Thursday night and they delivered their most complete, and emphatic performance of the season to come away with the 91-71 victory.

There was plenty to like in the New Zealand performance too with Levi Randolph top-scoring with 20 points while Finn Delany added 17, Tom Abercrombie 16, William McDowell-White 13, Rob Loe, Colton Iverson seven and Corey Webster.

It's the type of performance that should give the Breakers plenty of confidence of still ending their season on a positive note despite their current 6-14 record.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, returned home to RAC Arena following that win in Tasmania over the Breakers on Tuesday and shook off a bit of a slow start to come away with the 83-69 victory.

That improves Perth to a 17-5 record on the season to move back into top position ahead of Melbourne United and they will stay there should they beat the Breakers at home Sunday. The 'Cats have now won 11 of their past 12 matches this season with the only slip up coming last Saturday night in Adelaide to the 36ers.


The stats

- On top of everything else Bryce Cotton did on Tuesday in that remarkable win for the Wildcats over the Breakers in overtime, he turned attacker when his short wasn’t falling and got to the foul line for 17 free-throw attempts. That's the most of any player this season and he made 15 of them.

- The Wildcats remain the only team that the Breakers are yet to taste victory against under the coaching of Dan Shamir. He has yet to lead New Zealand to a win over Perth in five attempts. One thing remarkably consistent in those five games are the scores the Breakers have put up – 79, 77, 79, 75, 79.

- John Mooney has led the Wildcats in rebounding in all 22 games so far this season even when he pulled in nine boards back on Tuesday in a game where he had just three points on 1/12 shooting. That was the only game in his last eight he hasn’t recorded a double-double.

- William McDowell-White is fresh off becoming just the second ever New Zealand Breakers player to record a triple-double behind Cedric Jackson. He delivered 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds in Friday's win over his hometown Brisbane Bullets.

The key men

Bryce Cotton – Well when he is the best player in the league and people are discussing him as potentially being an all-time great, every time he steps on the floor he is someone the opposition has to be scared of. And the Breakers are as aware of that as anyone. Even though Tom Abercrombie has shown he can be as effective as anyone in helping to make life difficult for him, he's just proving impossible to stop. And in his last four games against New Zealand alone he is averaging 28.7 points a game including that 34-point haul on Tuesday after struggling early on as remarkable as that sounds.

Corey Webster – Sunday could just be the time for him to break out and put together one of his big-scoring games he has been famous for. He has been playing solidly enough since returning from injury largely as a facilitator but his scoring and shooting hasn’t quite been there. In the last five games he has played he's hit just one three each of those from 28 attempts, including going 4/21 in his four games since returning from injury. He has only played in one winning game in his last eight attempts at RAC Arena.


The quotes

Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was especially delighted with the performance of Mitch Norton in Friday night's win against the Illawarra Hawks where he was instrumental in holding their star point guard Tyler Harvey to 14 points on just 5/16 shooting.

While understandably Bryce Cotton and John Mooney are receiving plenty of accolades for helping Perth to sit on top of the NBL table right now, Gleeson doesn’t want it to be lost that Norton is just as important a factor and he will be once again in Sunday's home clash with the New Zealand Breakers.

"Well don’t forget Mitch. He is someone who I thought was the best player on the defensive end for us and he wouldn’t let Harvey catch the ball. It was just the way he was being so disruptive on defence," Gleeson said.

"Mitch was instrumental in us getting that lead and that’s the part of our team. Different guys have got to step up at different times and different nights and we have faith and trust in each other. That’s what makes us enjoyable

"There really only is a handful of guys who can affect the outcome of the game on the defence in this league. The best one (Damian Martin) retired last year for us and Mitch has been, well you’ve seen him do it. He has been non-stop work on the defence and Mitch is starting to get that now how he affects the game on the defensive end. He organises our defence well and he has been outstanding for this whole year for us."

Gleeson was also delighted with the response of John Mooney from his quietest game of the season on Tuesday in Launceston against the Breakers with just three points on 1/12 shooting.

He was huge in Friday's win over the Hawks with 17 points and 15 rebounds, but now it's a test for him to bounce back against Colton Iverson and the Breakers at RAC Arena on Sunday.

"Yeah I think it was probably his ankle that played up with him in the other game but look he was outstanding out there in this game for us," Gleeson said. 

"There were some huge rebounds from him out there and to get 15 rebounds is just a work horse of an effort. He’s there every time and he's where the action is and he goes and gets his hands hands on a number of other balls out there too that he just didn’t quite get the rebound. He did a tremendous job out there for us."

Breakers coach Dan Shamir couldn’t be more proud of the way his team has conducted themselves against all odds this season having been away from home now for five months and having dealt with the injury toll they have which still currently sees Tai Webster sidelined.

But the news they got earlier this week that they will get to return home to play some matches before the end of the season was just the welcome boost they needed, and then for them to deliver the performance they did against the Brisbane Bullets in Launceston on Thursday, meant that Shamir arrives in Perth feeling a lot more buoyant about their situation as are his players.

"You know I hate our situation of where we are in the table, we are not in a good place in terms of that, and then after that game against Perth you guys asked if we were heartbroken the other day to lose like that, and we probably were. But our guys shook that off and did everything they could to prepare for the game against Brisbane and put on the right performance," Shamir said.

"This is something that we have been doing also when we were successful. We are already preparing to go home and it's huge for us to know that it's going to be actually possible. We have been away from home for five months and on all accounts you don’t have a home court, you don’t play in front of your fans, you don’t get a boost from a good home win. 

"And obviously home wise you never have a little bit of life going with your friends for coffee or seeing your family. It's great news for us but we still have some time until it happens and like before also now we will focus on what happens between the lines on the court. Hopefully we will get home with a good run and finish the season strong."

New Breakers import Levi Randolph showed just what a handy pick up he's going to be for the rest of the season too after delivering 20 points including shooting 4/7 from beyond the three-point arc in Thursday's win against Brisbane.

He is looking forward to now backing that up on his first visit to Perth on Sunday.

"Hopefully we can build off what we did in this game. Like I've said before we are going to watch film with the coaches and we going to go back to the basics and practice and just build of the things that we need to continually work on. The last time we played them was a close game and it could have gone either way. Hopefully we can go in there and get a win," Randolph said.

"Mentally we have to move on, physically we have to take care of our bodies and just get with the athletic staff and the training staff and do what we need to do to recover hydrate and those type of things. It's next game mentality and we have to continue to build and continue to work and just be ready for the next game when it comes round."


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