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R6 Report: Breakers flex muscle in Vukona return

The Tall Blacks tandem of Corey Webster and Tom Abercrombie provided the offensive thrust to power the New Zealand Breakers to a much-needed 88-80 bounce-back victory over the Perth Wildcats at Vector Arena on Friday night. And as coach Dean Vickerman remarked after a result that was less comfortable than it was shaping mid-way through the third term, "any win against Perth is a really good win". Coming off a gut-wrenching, controversial defeat to the undefeated league leaders Melbourne, New Zealand’s win over their long-time rivals meant much more than just one in the W column after losing in-form power forward Tai Wesley to a bout of appendicitis, and playing skipper Mika Vukona on a minutes restriction. Perhaps sensing their team's need, Webster and Abercrombie were massive for the Breakers as they combined for 48 points, and six three-pointers between them. It was Webster's two timely final-quarter triples that killed off a gutsy Wildcats comeback as Greg Hire-inspired visitors closed to within three (71-74) midway through the period. The second of Webster’s trifectas came as the Breakers snared two offensive rebounds, then found their shooter for a dagger three that put his team ahead 86-77 with two minutes remaining. "We fought back strongly but we were sloppy and the score probably flattered us," Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson said. "We did a pretty poor job of defending (Webster and Abercrombie) on the wings, and they were rebounding well. Every time we had a run we couldn't sustain it." The win lifts the Breakers to 5-4, all coming at home, while the second-placed Wildcats are now 6-4 after splitting their road double for the round. Webster paced the Breakers with 28 points on 11-of-24 shooting – including 4-10 from deep – adding three rebounds and three assists. In-form swingman Abercrombie was almost as good, posting a second straight double-double with 20 points (9-14 FG) and 11 rebounds in another aggressive outing. Import Charles Jackson (6-9 FGs) was a dunking machine, coming alive in a high-energy 11-point third quarter that he opened with back-to-back steals. Cedric Jackson never really found his stroke but dished out 11 assists to go with eight points and four steals. "We talked about the effort levels, the physicality, the ability to box out and win loose balls, and we did a solid job of that," said Breakers coach Dean Vickerman afterwards. "It was better than the Melbourne game in that area. "There was great energy from Charles in the third quarter, when he had a huge impact on the game. There was that one period where we came up with a lot of deflections and it led to some baskets that got that margin out. "They changed their defence in the fourth quarter and it took us a bit to adjust to it, but Corey made some tough plays to keep us ahead and I was pleased with the way we closed out the game." The Cats were led by 15 points and five boards from Casey Prather, 14 powerful points from Nate Jawai and 11 points from Matt Knight, but lacked much in the way of perimeter scoring punch. New Zealand beat the Wildcats at their won game, winning the rebound count 46-38, and shot a solid 46 per cent from the floor, against the visitors' 43, while the visitors were +14 in the paint. The Breakers’ next game is a Thursday visit to Sydney, while the Wildcats lace up next Wednesday in Adelaide.   NZ BREAKERS 88 (Webster 28, Abercrombie 20, Charles Jackson 15) PERTH WILDCATS 80  (Prather 15, Jawai 14, Knight 11)   Boxscore
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