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R2 Report: Wildcats hold off Breakers in nail-biter

The Perth Wildcats have held on in a typically physical and nail-biting clash with the New Zealand Breakers to win their NBL home-opener at Perth Arena 83-80 on Friday night. The Wildcats were missing captain Damian Martin, but it was an under-strength Breakers with Alex Pledger not suiting up, Corey Webster not yet returned from the New Orleans Pelicans and Mika Vukona battling through a sore hamstring. That didn’t stop the defending champions from putting up a heck of a fight but the Wildcats had just enough to hold on to remain unbeaten while the Breakers slip to 1-3. Jermaine Beal came up big for the Wildcats, particularly with 8-of-9 at the foul line, to end with 19 points and six assists. Jesse Wagstaff was productive from the outside with 14 points and inside Matt Knight was a force with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Casey Prather had good moments in his first home game with 11 points and five assists while Jarrod Kenny did well standing in for Martin with eight points and three assists. Nathan Jawai was a popular with the Perth crowd and had six points and four rebounds. Tom Abercrombie refused to let the Breakers fall out of touch with 23 points and five rebounds on the back of shooting 8-of-16 including three from long range. Everard Bartlett enjoyed his return to Perth with 17 points on 5-of-8 shooting from downtown while Cedric Jackson had another strong game with 19 points, three rebounds and three assists. Charles Jackson battled hard with nine points and 15 boards. The Wildcats made the first break early in the second quarter with seven straight points to lead 28-21, but the Breakers took over nailing 11 straight and then 19 of the last 27 points to take a 40-36 advantage into the break. The 'Cats turned it around early in the third quarter, but the Breakers again refused to go away and when Bartlett nailed his fourth and fifth threes, and Cedric Jackson nailed a triple to start the fourth period scores were all tied up. When Jawai brought the crowd to their feet with a couple of baskets, the Wildcats looked in control leading by five with three minutes to go but triples to Abercrombie and Tai Wesley had the Breakers up 75-74 with two and-a-half minutes left. A basket to Beal and triple by New Zealander Kenny looked to seal the win for Perth and despite a couple of late big shots by Abercrombie, the Wildcats held on. Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson was especially pleased with the second half from his team. "I thought we were really tentative to start and weren’t aggressive at all, which was disappointing, but at half-time were in touching distance when we could have easily been down double digits. "Full credit in the second half, that was Wildcats basketball. The third quarter was outstanding and we are still developing and evolving as a team." Breakers coach Dean Vickerman was much happier with the performance than road losses to Adelaide and Illawarra. "I was pretty pleased with the way we played. We toughed it out, didn’t settle and executed our plays to give ourselves a chance. It was a much better effort on the boards too," Vickerman said. "We've got a number of people that are playing not 100 per cent right now but we'll go home and obviously we've got Corey (Webster) coming in and we'll make some adjustments." Round 2 concludes on Saturday with a double-header starting with the Sydney Kings hosting the Illawarra Hawks, and then the Cairns Taipans take on the Townsville Crocodiles in the first Reptile Rumble of 2015/16. Perth Wildcats 83 (Beal 19, Knight 14, Wagstaff 14) New Zealand Breakers 80 (Abercrombie 23, Cedric Jackson 19, Bartlett 17) BOX SCORE
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