Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Just when you thought NBL19 couldn’t possibly get any better, Round 5 stepped it up to a whole other level.
With a bunch of big-time players making big-time plays, this week was absolutely studalicious.
After Angus Brandt went down with an injured ankle, the Wildcats essentially battled through two games this weekend with three of their starters on the sidelines. But the ‘Cats would not be denied, claiming two more wins to strengthen their stranglehold on top spot.
The Wildcats got over Brisbane on the buzzer on Friday night and then completely outworked Illawarra on the road on Sunday.
Cornrow Cotton and Nick Kay led the way, Norton, Wagstaff and Steindl were terrific but really, the entire Perth squad should be applauded for two really gutsy wins.
“If you had of told me when Angus went down that we were going to win both games this weekend (I’d have thought) that was very optimistic,” Gleeson said after winning in the ‘Gong.
“The character of the guys, the chemistry’s great within the group, they’re playing for each other and they’re trusting each other. We’ve got some hard workers.”
They do, but they’ve also got…
Bryce Cotton (Perth Wildcats)
Cotton’s nickname within the inner sanctum of the Wildcats is ‘Hollywood’. Why? Because he’s an absolute bloody star!
Cotton’s game-winner against the Bullets was yet another moment of pure basketball brilliance from the MVP.
Catching the inbounds with 6 seconds remaining, Cotton punished Brisbane’s switch by stepping back on Bairstow and drilling the buzzer-beating three.
BRYCE COTTON WINS IT AT THE BUZZER!!! pic.twitter.com/IbcwjXkWtl
— Perth Wildcats (@PerthWildcats) November 9, 2018
It really was a beautiful thing.
Having said that, man, you’ve got to feel a little sorry for Cam Bairstow.
Speaking with the media postgame, Brisbane coach Andrej Lemanis expressed regret about not telling his players to double Cotton on that final play.
As it played out, Bairstow was left on a very lonely island guarding the league’s best shot-maker with the game on the line.
The whole thing must’ve felt like Emir Preldzic all over again for the Bullets big man. (Ugh, I shouldn’t have gone there… that still hurts)
Bless his cotton socks.
Harry Froling (Adelaide 36ers)
The 36ers suffered their fourth straight loss but Froling was very studly on Saturday afternoon with a career-high 23 points.
The twenty-year-old had 15 during a stunning 3-minute stretch in the second quarter, serving up the second-highest scoring effort for a single period so far this season.
Froling has averaged 15 and 5 across his last 4 games at 55 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from downtown.
The kid is as brash and confident a rookie as you’re ever likely to see in the NBL… but he also has the game to back it up.
Brad Newley (Sydney Kings)
Newley was in attack mode right from the tip against the 36ers, attacking the cup for Sydney’s opening bucket.
That got the veteran rolling and he went on to splash 4-of-7 threes on his way to a season-high 26 points.
His activity helped spark the Kings as he filled out the box score with 6 boards, 4 dimes, 2 steals and a block in a terrific performance.
Speaking on the broadcast postgame, Newley admitted he’d been a little passive in Sydney’s Round 4 loss to Melbourne and was keen to turn that around in his home town.
“I wanted to come out tonight and prove a point,” he said.
“I’m proud of myself and I’m real proud of the team. We’ve come in here and got a really good win against a very good team.”
New Zealand Breakers
How good were the Breakers?!
Kevin Braswell’s squad entered Round 5 possessing the league’s most inefficient defence and were getting burnt from long range at a historically bad rate.
That all turned around this week, though, as the Kiwis stepped up their D to smash Cairns by 23 before breaking Brisbane hearts on the buzzer.
With Shea Ili making life tough for Melo Trimble (he allowed the league’s leading scorer just one three-point attempt), the Kiwis clamped down on the Taipans and then found their rhythm at the offensive end.
That allowed Corey Webster and Patrick Richard to get off, with the pair combining for 46 points on a remarkable 18-of-25 shooting from the field.
“If you’re a good defensive team you can run all day,” Braswell explained postgame.
“Most teams aren’t great in (defensive) transition and (offensive) transition you can’t scout for so you don’t know what a team’s going to do.”
Then, on Sunday, the Breakers were unstoppable in the opening half. They then bounced back from a weak third quarter to snatch victory on the road; Tom Abercrombie drilling the clutch game-winner at the death.
Presenting you with the ‘Tom Abercrombie’ clutch shot.
— SKYCITY Breakers NZ (@NZBreakers) November 11, 2018
Richard was electric once again, finishing with a game-high 21. But, like Perth, the whole squad deserves a shout-out for a big-time couple of wins.
Casper Ware (Melbourne United)
Here’s what I love about Casper Ware: he cares.
I mean, that dude really, really cares… at both ends of the floor.
He cares about his teammates, he cares about his match-up and he cares about winning above everything else.
The two-time All NBL First Team guard was sensational on Sunday, dropping 34 points and 6 assists in Melbourne’s win over Cairns.
But where Casper really excelled was at the defensive end, where he worked hard all game to disrupt Taipans star Melo Trimble.
The league’s leading scorer did finish with 19 points but United outscored the Snakes by 17 while he was on the floor.
Ware fought hard over screens, locked-in on containing the ball and in the game’s biggest moment, forced the decisive turnover by denying Trimble the inbounds pass.
“It’s always good going up against good point guards just to see how you do against them,” Ware said after the game.
United have now played 39 NBL games since they last lost two in a row. They’re the current kings of bouncing back, partly because of how much Casper Ware cares.
OK, I think we’ve all had enough of this now.
“It’s very frustrating,” Hawks coach Rob Beveridge said yesterday.
“The head, the arms… I want it to be a really good, physical, honest game. Not trying to convince the referees or pull the wool over their eyes.
“Referees are trying to tidy up on it but maybe they need to really do a lot more homework and analyse players and what certain players in the league are trying to do.”
Four Ls in a row. Help is on the way.
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