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R17 Preview: Perth v Melbourne

Who: Perth Wildcats v Melbourne United When: 9.30pm (AEDT), Friday 29 January Where: Perth Arena Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Melbourne 92 (Goulding 27, Holt 16, Warrick 16) d Perth 87 (Prather 24, Knight 19, Jawai 15), Round 12, Hisense Arena, Melbourne THE MATCH-UP Jermaine Beal v Chris Goulding – The shooting brilliance of this pair is no secret, nor is their ability to create for teammates, but both rely on their teams’ defence generating run so they can torment defenders before their buddies are in position to help. THE STATS When Goulding shoots 40 per cent or better from the field Melbourne are 13-3. He has shot 18-of-34 against the Wildcats this season. In two games against United in Melbourne, Beal scored a total of 19 points on 7-of-28 field goals and 2-of-12 from long range. In one meeting in Perth, he racked up 40 points on 14-of-26 and 10-of-19. THE STORY Stephen Holt has some fond memories of his tour of Australia with St Mary’s University, and one not so cherished from when they faced Chris Goulding and the Melbourne Tigers. “I remember Chris had 30-something on us and we lost that game,” he laughed. “I was pretty impressed with his game, and how much it’s grown (since). It’s crazy how I was just playing against him in a scrimmage game and two years later we’ve come full circle.” Melbourne have had two big win streaks this season totalling14 games, in which Holt and Goulding have averaged a combined 37.1 points, 7.0 assists and 6.3 three-point makes per game. “I think we feed off each other,” Holt said. “When he hits a step-back crossover three it gives me energy as well. I think the main thing about both of us is we’re unselfish but at the same time we know when we’re needed to score. “He just makes my job easier because every time I kick it ahead in transition and he shoots I’m saying $100 it’s going in.” When Melbourne slumped, however, so did their star backcourt, their passive containment-style defence exploited mercilessly by some of the NBL’s star guards. But Holt and Goulding have struck back, holding opposition starting backcourts to just 17ppg in their recent five-game win streak, Holt pinching three steals in the past three outings after having just five for the entire season to that point. “I think that’s something Dean (Demopoulos) has told me. In our defence I’m on the ball so I’m the point of attack,” he said. “I’m definitely going for more steals, trying to be more aggressive, trying to do a little bit of everything.” That works in reverse too though, Perth and Wollongong securing some key late-game turnovers from United with their full-court pressure, something that has been an adjustment for Holt in his first season overseas. “In college there were only a few teams that were pressing teams, my first year out in the D-League no one pressed, but out here pretty much every team presses,” he said. Holt knows Damian Martin will be snapping at his heels, well supported by Perth’s intelligent defensive unit who present a number of different looks. “It’s a different puzzle every single game that Chris and I have to solve so it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re going to have to whether the storm and take care of the ball at the start of the game, because their crowd is going to be into it, and try to understand the flow of the game. “We’re going to have to execute in the half-court, break their press and then execute late in the shot clock. That’s what we’ve been practicing, how to find the right sets at the right time.” THE WRAP United won two riveting contests in Melbourne, while the Wildcats rode Beal’s brilliance to a blowout win at Perth Arena. Hakim Warrick started to find his NBL feet in that game though, and he and Daniel Kickert’s versatility will provide a big challenge for Perth’s bigs. At the other end, United don’t have the bulk of Nate Jawai or Matt Knight inside, so the pressure defence of Holt and Nate Tomlinson will be important to disrupt the Wildcats’ guards and prevent early post entries. It’s no secret Martin will lead Perth’s pressure defence, but if Casey Prather is unavailable that area suffers, as does the defence against a resurgent Todd Blanchfield, who has averaged 15.6ppg at 59 per cent in his past two games. The Wildcats have grabbed 25 more offensive rebounds and coughed up nine less turnovers in the season series. With top spot on the line, Melbourne will have to play smarter and harder for longer or else Perth will wear them down with possession dominance.
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