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R17 Report: United take top spot in overtime classic

It was a classic and intense contest in front of a huge and loud crowd befitting top spot being on the line and in the end Melbourne United stood up when it counted to beat the Perth Wildcats 91-85 at Perth Arena on Friday night. Stephen Holt gave United the hot start with four first quarter three-pointers on his way to hitting seven for the night for a career-best 33 points. Then when Hakim Warrick caught fire during the fourth quarter with nine of his 14 points, Melbourne looked home leading by eight midway through the period. The Wildcats fought back hard, though, with 10 of the last 12 points of regulation capped off with a stunning put back slam by Casey Prather after a Jermaine Beal missed three. In overtime, Melbourne dominated with the opening seven points and it was Majok Majok who was huge. Not only did he score a crucial dunk but had a huge block and came up with big defensive plays and he needed to with Warrick having fouled out. Todd Blanchfield iced the win with a three with 20 seconds left as Melbourne won by six points to improve to a 17-8 record to move clear on top of Perth (16-9). It also gives United a third win over the 'Cats for the season to claim the series split. On top of Holt's 33 points, four rebounds and four assists in his career-best night despite nine turnovers, Daniel Kickert had 16 points for Melbourne, Warrick 14, Chris Goulding 11 and Blanchfield nine to go with six rebounds and four assists. Melbourne coach Dean Demopoulos was the polar opposite with his emotions to his first visit to Perth when he was fired up following a 30-point hiding. "It was a great ball game. It's probably the best basketball game that I've been involved in, in this country. It was a very unusual basketball game for the way we normally play and Perth never gives up, they've got an unbelievable organisation," Demopoulos said. "It's a great tribute to these guys to come in here and have the game in their hands, then lose it and regain it again. That will serve us well and it will be something that we can draw off of. I believe we are in the playoffs now and I couldn’t be happier about that." Prather played through a sore hamstring to top-score with 17 points and seven rebounds for Perth including two exciting breakaway dunks and two crucial put back athletic plays late. He also had a huge blocked shot denying a dunk from Majok. Nate Jawai wasn’t sighted with the game on the line but had 16 points for Perth in under 21 minutes. Beal also had 10 points, Jesse Wagstaff nine and Matt Knight nine to go with eight boards. Damian Martin had eight points, four rebounds and four steals with his defence a major reason Melbourne had 22 turnovers. But with 18 turnovers themselves they couldn’t fully capitalise. Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was disappointed to fall short in overtime after finishing regulation so strongly, but he acknowledged the impact Holt had on the final result. "It was pretty disappointing. We had a great opportunity to take a step forward and we didn’t grasp it," Gleeson said. "Holt was on fire and he was the difference between the two sides. He came out on a mission and we had no answer for him. He got his eye in and once shooters like that get their eye in, it's pretty hard to keep them quiet. "In the first quarter they got seven threes and that's not in our game plan to give that many open looks up. In the other three quarters we played pretty strong, but once a team with that talent gets their tails up, it's hard to put the genie back in the box." Melbourne has a massive clash again on the road to the Illawarra Hawks on Thursday while Perth remains home to host the Sydney Kings on Friday. MELBOURNE UNITED 91 (Holt 33, Kickert 16, Warrick 14) PERTH WILDCATS 85 (Prather 17, Jawai 16, Beal 10) BOX SCORE
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