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GAME REPORT

Vice Too Much as Wildcats Overrun Brave Taipans

Bryce Cotton sent a reminder why he's the best player in the NBL with Vic Law then helping to slam the door for the Perth Wildcats on a valiant and shorthanded Cairns Taipans on New Year's Eve at the Cairns Convention Centre.

It was the annual New Year's Eve clash in Cairns for the Taipans and despite the absence of who you could argue are their three best, and most important, players Scott Machado, Tahjere McCall and Mirko Djeric, the Snakes weren’t going to let down their loyal Orange Army.

As a result, Cairns made a remarkable start against the league-leaders scoring the game's opening 13 points and leading by as much as 18, and still 25-11 by quarter-time.

However, from the point Cairns did lead 23-5, Perth outscored them 79 points to 55 the rest of the way to end up winning 84-78. 

The win improved the 'Cats to 5-1 to remain on top of the NBL, but you couldn’t help but admire the fight of the Snakes minus Machado, McCall and Djeric.

Cotton wouldn’t let the Wildcats lose heading into 2022 though. After a scoreless first term, he exploded for 19 in the second on the way to 29 for the game to go with six assists.

Law had his moments too with 17 points and six rebounds while Luke Travers added 10 points, five boards, four steals and three blocks, and Michael Frazier nine points, five rebounds, four steals and three assists on a night where Matt Hodgson and Mitch Norton returned.

Wildcats coach Scott Morrison wasn’t overly happy afterwards with the performance despite the come from behind win.

"I think we have to give them credit for how they came out. This was as close to a full team as we've had all season and on the other side of the scorer's table they were quite shorthanded," Morrison said.

"So you definitely have to give them credit, they started a different line-up, junked on us and played harder. It's stuff we knew they were going to do, but they really caught us off guard and I think they deserve a lot of credit for their effort. 

"We hit some big shots to pull away at the end and our takeaway was the start, but more importantly finishing the quarter and halves. I thought we did a poor job especially at the end of the second quarter and the fourth. It's not anyone in particular, it's me on down who has to do a better job just of managing the game."

Majok Deng continued his run of career-best form for the Taipans setting another benchmark with 27 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks on 11/18 shooting.

Bul Kuol not only ran the point as a rookie but guarded Cotton a lot of the night for Cairns and finished with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists with Stephen Zimmerman contributing 12 points and eight boards, and Keanu Pinder eight points and six rebounds.

Taipans coach Adam Forde obviously never likes to lose, but was proud of the effort of his group under all the circumstances.

"I don’t usually do a post-game chat with the boys, but I did tonight because I just had to tell them how proud I was of them," Forde said.

"We made some errors but there were also lots of things we spliced in at short notice knowing that we had Tahj out. A couple of times we missed switching up onto Cotton and missed switching onto Vic Law and he had two back-to-back uncontested threes which hurt us. 

"But I can't fault their effort. They played hard and we are battered and bruised, and they just gave me everything so how can I be upset about that."

Those outside the Taipans camp might have been worrying about the absence of Scott Machado, Tahjere McCall and Mirko Djeric, but the Snakes players on the floor didn’t want to make excuses and put on the most incredible of starts.

They were forcing the Wildcats into poor turnovers and bad shots, with Bryce Cotton even throwing up air balls, having his shot blocked by Majok Deng and throwing the ball away.

The Snakes took full advantage as well scoring the game's opening 13 points before Cotton capitalised on a Cairns turnover to set up a flush from Michael Frazier almost four minutes into the contest.

Cairns maintained their edge, though, to lead 25-11 after one with Perth shooting just 4/19 and Cotton going 0/4, but that would soon change in the second period.

Cotton turned it on like only he can and put up 19 individual points in the second quarter including making four triples and shooting 7/8 from the field. However, Cairns wouldn’t go away and still led 47-44 at half-time finishing the half on a 6-0 run as Deng took his tally to 16 points.

Cotton opened up the second half how he finished the first knocking down another three-pointer but the Taipans were answering every challenge. Despite 10 more points from Cotton in the third term, Perth only led 68-66 at three quarter-time with a Frazier layup on the buzzer.

Cotton had brought Perth back into the game, then it was Vic Law time to start the fourth quarter to shut the gate on the brave Taipans. Law hit a couple of threes to start the fourth term.

Captain Jesse Wagstaff then officially shut the door on the Snakes when he hit a triple with three minutes left for Perth to lead by nine, and go on to win by six to remain on top of the NBL heading into 2022.

The Wildcats are next in action in a week's time against the Adelaide 36ers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre while the Taipans will be at home to the South East Melbourne Phoenix next Saturday.

HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 5

CAIRNS TAIPANS 78 (Deng 27, Kuol 13, Zimmerman 12)

PERTH WILDCATS 84 (Cotton 29, Law 17, Travers 10) 

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