R16 Preview: Perth Wildcats vs NZ Breakers

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Sunday 20 March 2022

Where: RAC Arena, Perth

Broadcast: ESPN; Kayo; Sky Sport NZ

Who won last time?

Perth 104 (Law 39, Cotton 32, Wagstaff 11) d New Zealand 102 (Besson 23, Siva 19, Wetzell 17) OT – Round 15, MyState Bank Arena, Hobart

You probably can’t have more fun watching basketball than this game. Vic Law was remarkable as he put on a mid-range and low-post clinic en route to 39 points and the overtime-forcing basket. Hugo Besson was unstoppable as he scored 17 points in the third term to rocket NZ back into the game. Then Bryce Cotton was undeniable as he racked up 22 points in the final 13 minutes of the contest, including the back-breaker.

What happened last start?

That was a stunning late-game effort from the Wildcats, who were playing their fourth away game in eight days – with almost 4000km travel in between – and their 14th road date on the trot. Despite some serious fatigue challenges, the league’s best offensive team shot 62 per cent inside the arc and racked up 50 points in the paint and 20 from mid-range.

While those numbers are a credit to Perth, they are also an indictment on the Breakers’ league-worst defence, and executing a Will Weaver-style decision to allow Vic Law to shoot from his money spots over and again ultimately cost them. There were plenty of positives, however, with Yanni Wetzell attracting loads of attention and NZ’s shooters capitalising.

Who’s in form?

Bryce Cotton – The MVP reminded everyone he’s the MVP with 32 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and another game winner.  Just how valuable is he to Perth’s offence? In four minutes when he rested last round, the Cats were scoreless on 0/4 shooting and committed 3 turnovers. In BC’s 41 minutes they shot 58 per cent and coughed it up just eight times.

Hugo Besson – While Cotton was hot late, no one got hotter than Besson during his third-quarter outburst. With Perth reluctant to overplay him, Hugo went into boss mode with 17 points in five minutes on a perfect 5/5 from outside, his behind-the-back, through-the-legs step-back trey on Jesse Wagstaff one of the plays of the season. Can he do it in the Jungle?

Who needs to be?

Yanni Wetzell – Perth had few answers for Wetzell on the roll-out, but his uncharacteristic 7/21 shooting night proved costly, especially when you consider he took 20 of those from within five feet. Put that down to rust, and rest assured the Wildcats will be doing some seriously game planning about how to stop NZ’s star centre getting 21 attempts again.

Majok Majok – Some credit must go to Majok, the unassuming centre a physical force who wore Wetzell down. During Matt Hodgson’s three-game absence, Perth are +36 in Majok’s 62 minutes as he’s added 23 points and 17 boards, and helped force Yanni and Jo Lual-Acuil into 13/36 shooting. With Hodgy back, this pair best be ready for a Pretzel attack.

Who’s statting up?

 - Wetzell had 19 rebounds last Monday. He’s grabbed 8 boards or more eight times this season and NZ have been ahead or level after 40 minutes in six of those. They claimed four wins and lost to Perth in OT and the Hawks in 2OT

 - In that game, New Zealand held the Wildcats to 5/21 shooting at 24 per cent from beyond 15 feet, but leaked an astonishing 35/52 at 67 per cent from closer to the hoop

 - Perth won scoring from ‘ones and twos’ 89-54, while the Breakers outscored them 48-15 from deep. The Cats took 77 per cent of their field-goal attempts inside the arc, compared to NZ’s 52 per cent

 - The Wildcats were +19 in Bryce Cotton’s 41:02 on the court, and -17 in the remaining 3:58. So far this year, Perth are a staggering 37.7 points per 40 minutes better off with their MVP on the floor. The next highest in the NBL is Mitch Creek at 19.6 points per 40 minutes

Who’s matching up?

Vic Law v Finn Delany – Law’s past six outings have now delivered 24.3 points at 58 per cent and 11 rebounds, while playing almost 35 minutes per game. With Perth losing four of five through February, they needed a lift and Law has lifted them on his shoulders, particularly on the defensive glass, leading that stat four times in their five-game winning run.  

It was his scoring that did the talking last week, dropping 10/13 in the paint and 7/9 from midrange as the Breakers played behind him and counted the cost. NZ need to avoid switching onto Law, give Delany the assignment of making post touches difficult, and then load up the help to avoid dump ins and force Perth’s role players to do more damage.

Who’s talking the talk?

Given the year the New Zealand Breakers have had, they really couldn’t have recruited anyone better than Hugo Besson.

After going scoreless in the opening half and struggling defensively as his team slipped eight behind Perth, the young Frenchman did anything but pout at half-time.

“I never really lose confidence,” he said as his coach chuckled beside him.

“It’s just basketball, you make some shots, you miss some shots. I started bad but at half-time there were 20 minutes left so I just kept going trying to do my best to help the team and play at my level.”

Besson went to an extraordinary level in the second half, but his main take-away from the game is so did his team.

“For us it’s a tough loss but we know we have a big level now,” he said.

“We are able to go to overtime and lose by two to a really great team, so it shows that we are working really well and we are going in the right way.”

After becoming more and more frustrated in recent weeks, coach Dan Shamir was also taking positives from the game.

“Disappointing loss for us, obviously we’re disappointed, but we fought, we made shots. The beginning was a little slow, then we played some good basketball, left everything on the floor, they made one more big play at the end,” he said.

“Games like that are obviously decided on very small things and very big plays done by players, and tonight Bryce Cotton did it again.”

While Bryce channelled Britney Spears late, the damage was done by he and Vic Law throughout, and despite their combined tallies of 71 points on 29/47 shooting, New Zealand stuck with their defensive plan of not overplaying Perth’s stars.

“You give something and you take something else. This is a team that normally shoots the ball very well, leads the league in three-pointing shooting percentage and the number one offence in the league,” Shamir said.

“Two really great players that really run the show on a daily basis. Before this game Cotton averaged 18 shots and Law averaged 16 shots. Today they got 48 shots, so it’s special.

“I think they're playing to their talent and normally they can also get the whole team going sharing the ball and getting everybody open looks, this is why they really look great. It’s a trade-off between helping, and you have to be very smart with how you help against these guys.

“Vic Law made a lot of mid-range shots, he’s a great player, made a lot of pull-ups and turnaround shots, we started poorly and we took control of the game when we didn’t give him cheap things like slips and cuts for lay-ups.

“Not happy with the result, we definitely can and have to defend better, but credit to these two guys.”

It was an unusual choice, making Vic Law the man to beat you rather than the Wildcats’ role players, but Perth boss Scott Morrison thought there was method in the madness.

“(Law) was great, he carried us for a good stretch of the game,” Morrison said.

“New Zealand did a really good job making it tough for us to get our usual looks. I think we didn’t hit a three until late in the third quarter, if not the fourth quarter, which for us that’s got to be a first for the season.

“We’re usually getting those drive-and-kick threes or pick-and-roll threes, so they had a great game plan and they executed it and I think the only reason we won was we had two guys who hit some crazy clutch shots and I’ll take it.”

Now Shamir and the Breakers must choose whether to go down that path again, or crowd Perth’s stars and make someone else beat them.

Given Shamir’s clear preference for defending the arc, expect more of the same with a few tweaks to make Law’s life tougher. If Tom Abercrombie has shed a bit more rust in the past six days he will get more time on Cotton, a man he defended extremely well last season.

As for Perth’s defence, they struggled dealing with a rolling Wetzell with shooters like Besson, Peyton Siva, Rasmus Bach, Delany and Abercrombie around him, with the Flying Finn and Ousmane Dieng also having some success going to the cup.

The Wildcats were passive throughout, allowing New Zealand to get strategic movement into their ball-screen action and get shots where they wanted, something they won’t want to repeat in front of their action-starved home fans.  

“There were a lot of defensive things that could be cleaned up,” Morrison said.

“In the second half just their corner threes, they were moving the ball well, they were attacking really well and put us on our heels, but there were a couple of times I thought we could have done a better job closing out to the corner.

“At the end of the day they kicked our butt for a good stretch of that game, so we were lucky to hit enough shots to be in it.”


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