Hungry Jack's NBL
Wildcats Heat Up Top Spot Battle with Win Over United
The battle for top spot in the NBL is well and truly alive after the Perth Wildcats finished off a hot start to end up beating the table topping Melbourne United 97-87 at John Cain Arena on Thursday night.
The result means that precious little separates United, Wildcats and South East Melbourne Phoenix right now. Melbourne could lose top spot by the end of Round 15 should they not bounce back on Sunday in a Throwdown against the Phoenix.
A loss on Sunday for Melbourne and if Perth is able to cap off their run of 14 straight road games with wins over the Bullets and Breakers on Saturday and Monday respectively, and they could return home for nine straight matches at RAC Arena sitting atop the NBL table.
For the second time in five days, Perth got off to a hot start racing to a 14-4 lead early against Melbourne on Thursday night.
It was Mitch Norton making United pay for focusing their defensive energies elsewhere with 14 first half points, but Matthew Dellavedova put up 15 for Melbourne and the home team was on top by two at the half.
However, Perth took over to start the second half and despite scores again being level early in the fourth period, the Wildcats wouldn’t be denied. It was a trademark Bryce Cotton three with just under two minutes to go that iced the big win.
Norton came up huge for the Wildcats with 26 points, five rebounds and four assists while Vic Law helped Perth overcome the absence of Matt Hodgson in the big men department pulling in 18 rebounds to go with 20 points.
Cotton added 19 points and five assists while Majok Majok delivered 13 points and six rebounds, Luke Travers 10 points and five boards, and Todd Blanchfield nine points.
Wildcats coach Scott Morrison hailed it his team's best win of the season especially for winning the rebound count and the hustle they showed.
"I think it was our most solid performance and the thing you've got to do in this league to not beat yourself, I think it was our best performance in that sense," Morrison said.
"There have been some flashier performances and better shooting performances because we were 4/23 from three. It wasn’t pretty all the time but it was our best performance in terms of not beating ourselves and give ourselves a chance to win."
Jo Lual-Acuil had a hot start for Melbourne and finished with 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks with Dellavedova unable to add to his 15 first half points but finishing with five rebounds and five assists.
Ariel Hukporti continued his impressive form with 14 points while Jack White was energetic with nine points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
It was a bristling United coach Dean Vickerman post-match who now expects a response from his group in Sunday's Throwdown.
"It's about our mindset. I thought we had a poor practice leading into this game and I thought some people floated around like we'd done something and didn’t take care of their own business," Vickerman said.
"That's being as prepared as they can be with their scouting, not just accepting what the coaches give them but to go home and do their homework to know what's going to happen on the floor and do the extra that has allowed us to be the best defensive team in the league.
"We weren’t that tonight and we didn’t have people do the job that they need to do defensively. Hopefully it's a good kick in the arse and I'm trying to prepare this team to not need this to be better, but the people who will play more will be the guys who are the guys that understand what we're trying to achieve."
Having started in dominant fashion on Sunday in Adelaide, Perth repeated that dose on Thursday putting up the game's first seven points with five of them courtesy of Todd Blanchfield who hit four threes in the first quarter against the 36ers.
Mitch Norton and Bryce Cotton then extended the lead for the 'Cats to 11-2, and then Norton connected from downtown to make it 14-4.
Jo Lual-Acuil was the only one keeping Melbourne afloat with eight of his team's first 10 points, but then Ariel Hukporti gave a spark with five quick points and that helped United close the Wildcats lead to just a point at quarter-time.
A three-point play to Norton and then buckets to Law and Blanchfield helped the visitors back to a five-point lead early in the second quarter, and it was back to six with five points through Cotton and Norton.
But Matthew Dellavedova hit a couple of threes heading to half-time to give him 15 points in the half and with Hukporti making a couple more buckets, United finished on a 10-2 run to lead 48-46 at the break.
It was Majok Majok who helped Perth back on top scoring his team's first nine points of the second half. Cotton and Travers then ensured the Wildcats finished the third quarter strongly to lead 69-64 heading into the fourth.
A Brad Newley three and Lual-Acuil inside finish saw Melbourne quickly draw level to start the fourth quarter, but Perth answered with a Norton and-one and Law putback. Cotton soon extended Perth's lead to six, but Lual-Acuil was able to cut the deficit it in half with another three-point play.
The Wildcats weren’t letting it slip though. Law put the lead back to six and Cotton pushed it to nine with a three with under two minutes to go which proved the sealer.
United now gears up for a Throwdown with the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Sunday.
The Wildcats have two more games this round on Saturday away to the Brisbane Bullets and then Monday in Hobart against the New Zealand Breakers before returning home to close the season with a nine-game home stand at RAC Arena.
HUNGRY JACK'S NBL ROUND 15
MELBOURNE UNITED 87 (Lual-Acuil 16, Dellavedova 15, Hukporti 14)
PERTH WILDCATS 97 (Norton 26, Law 20, Cotton 19)