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R18 Preview: Illawarra v Townsville

Who: Illawarra Hawks v Townsville Crocodiles When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 6 February Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong Watch: Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ; NBL Live App Last time they met: Illawarra 98 (Penney 23, Ogilvy 18, Lisch 17) d Townsville 74 (Norton 18, Steindl 16, Henry 11), Round 13, Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre THE MATCH-UP Mitch Norton v pressing defence – The league’s youngest starting point guard has played excellent defence, controlled the tempo and masterminded some memorable victories this season, but against Illawarra he hasn’t been able to put the same stamp on the game at either end, allowing the Hawks’ pressure to put each game on their terms. THE STATS  In first quarters against the Hawks, Townsville have been outscored 96-45 and had as many turnovers (15) as made field goals. Kirk Penney has scored 78 points on 14-of-26 three-point shooting in three games against the Crocs. THE STORY Adelaide, Cairns, Melbourne, New Zealand, Perth and Sydney – the Crocs have beaten them all, but there’s still one bit of unfinished business. “Yep, that’s it, one team, and we’re taking them on this Saturday,” skipper Mitch Norton said. While Townsville have made life uncomfortable for most opponents, the Hawks have beaten them three times by an average of 23.3 points. “For some reason we haven’t put half a game together against Illawarra,” Norton said. “They're a very aggressive defensive team so we have to be on the front foot and attack them. If you attack them and they get in foul trouble I can’t see how they're going to continue to pressure.” But the Hawks feed on turnovers and quick shots, and coach Shawn Dennis has made it clear that attacking Rob Beveridge’s pressure schemes is a two-edged sword. “SD has coached under Bevo for a long time, the way they play they want you to take quick contested jumpshots,” Norton said. “Even if you make one then you’ll come down and shoot another one and that’s playing into their hands. Our style of game is to play fast, but if you don’t have an easy lay-up or a wide open three you need to slow the ball up and get through a good set with multiple on-balls.” Making sure they know the correct starting time is also important, the Crocs seemingly turning up after quarter-time in their first three meetings and never really having a chance of victory after that. “It’s right from the get go, from when you get to the stadium you have to be ready to play these guys because they can put points on the board in a hurry,” he said. “I’m going to try everything in my powers to make sure we’re good to go when we get to the stadium.” While Norton’s offence is important, he knows he must set the tone at the defensive end, where Penney, Kevin Lisch and Oscar Forman have spread the Crocs’ team defence like few others. “I think because they do have so many shooters on the floor people are somewhat worried about rotating and leaving their man. In the good games we’ve had against Melbourne, they’ve got good shooters all over the floor but we really committed to rotations,” he said. “They love running on-balls so we need to be ready to rotate out of that and committing to them.” But Norton feels like their recent opposition has them ready to climb one of the season’s few remaining hurdles. “We had Adelaide at home who like to run and score early and New Zealand with Cedric (Jackson) using that (transition) on-ball,” he said. “I think it’s put us in a pretty good situation where we’ve been practicing this stuff for a number of weeks leading up to this game. I think we’re pretty well prepared.” THE WRAP  The operation was successful for Illawarra on Thursday night but the patient died, as Lindsay Gaze would say, holding Melbourne to 80 points but uncharacteristically missing 25 three-point attempts, many of which were wide open. Kirk Penney’s expected return on Saturday should remedy that – especially given his run of form against the Crocs – and create some extra room for AJ Ogilvy, who has averaged just 12 points at 45 per cent his past eight games, but 19.7 at 70 per cent against Townsville. The ability of Omar Samhan, Nick Kay and Mitch Young to hedge and recover to Ogilvy will be crucial, as will Samhan’s three-point shooting to drag AJ from the basket, opening lanes for Norton and Jordair Jett, then jumpers for Clint Steindl, one of the Crocs’ key barometers. While this season series may have been dire for Townsville, they bounced back from a 31-point defeat to Melbourne to win their next meeting, and you can bet they have a different defensive plan for the Hawks, the only team they haven’t kept below 80 points this season.
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