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R16 Preview: Perth v Illawarra

Who: Perth Wildcats v Illawarra Hawks When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Thursday 21 January Where: Perth Arena Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Perth 99 (Beal 26, Prather 19, Knight 16) d Illawarra 96 (Lisch 25, Ogilvy 25, Penney 19), Round 6, WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong THE MATCH-UP Jermaine Beal v Kevin Lisch – It’s the question Wildcats fans often ask, who’s better – Lisch or Beal? D-Lisch is shaping as an MVP candidate, while Dolla has produced some incredible match-winning performances, none more brilliant than the last time these teams met. THE STATS Beal has averaged 22.7 points and 4.0 assists against the Hawks this season, shooting 48 per cent from long range. Lisch has averaged 18.3 points and 4.3 assists against Perth but shot just 3-of-14 from the arc. Against all other opponents he has nailed 46 per cent from deep. THE STORY Damian Martin may have been injured but he still vividly remembers Round 6 in Wollongong, when Jermaine Beal crushed the Hawks in the final term after his predecessor had made him look a little silly. “I’m hoping Kevin Lisch crosses up Jermaine Beal early in the game and then Jermaine goes like that the whole game,” he laughed. After that move, Beal unleashed a three-pointer eight seconds later, the first of 12 points in less than six minutes as the Wildcats stormed from 11 points down to win. It capped a game that left former Wildcats coach and now Hawks’ boss Rob Beveridge shaking his head, his team giving up 22 offensive rebounds to lose the tempo control his game plan is built around. Beveridge’s fingerprints can still be found on this Wildcats team, coach Trevor Gleeson having empowered his senior players to use elements of team’s previous defensive systems. That shone through last Friday against Sydney, the ‘Cats wearing the Kings down with their pressure defence and then running away with a 52-29 second half. “Everyone keeps talking about the third quarter where we put that run on, the pressure builds up from the start and it’s that defensive system we’ve bought into,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can get some stops and get out and run because that’s our strength, particular with Jermaine on one wing and Casey (Prather) the other.” But dominating possession against the Hawks isn’t as easy as it used to be, Beveridge’s men plus-24 in the possession game in their past six outings, forcing 17.2 turnovers per night. A large factor has been the form of role players like Cody Ellis, Kevin White and Jarrad Weeks, whose defensive intensity has helped the ‘big three’ of Lisch, Kirk Penney and AJ Ogilvy shine. “Bevo has brought out the best in those three guys, Kev has always shown glimpses of what he’s capable of, particularly at the defensive end, but he definitely has stepped up his game this year,” Martin said. The Wildcats skipper said “Cody doesn’t surprise me at all”, and while Weeks has provided headaches for opposition teams this season, it turns out he is providing them with plenty of entertainment too. “He dunked on Tommy (Jervis) last time and we haven’t let him forget about it,” Martin laughed. “I don’t want encourage anything bad happening to us this week, but provided we’re up 40 I wouldn’t mind seeing that happen again so we can give Tommy a hard time.” THE WRAP The Wildcats are averaging 98.7 points against Illawarra while grabbing 49.5 per cent of the rebounds at the offensive end. Against other opponents they pull in 34 per cent of o-boards and average 81.7ppg, showing how important glass work will be for Illawarra. Nate Jawai, Matt Knight and Jervis have made life difficult for Ogilvy in this series, and only two of his teammates have grabbed more than three rebounds against Perth, who will likely go inside early and often if they can swiftly navigate the Hawks’ pressure. The Wildcats will ask plenty of questions of Illawarra’s physicality, and while they have improved, New Zealand’s dominance was only painted over by the late-game brilliance of Lisch. The big question is whether Penney’s hamstring will be passed fit, and if the in-form sharpshooter can’t make the trip west it will take something special from Lisch for the Hawks to break their Western Australian drought.
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