Cotton class tames Hawks
Bryce Cotton rediscovered his dazzling best in a spectacular late flurry to power NBL league leaders Perth Wildcats past Illawarra Hawks with an 81-70 victory at RAC Arena.
The two-time defending champions led by just two points at the last break on Friday night before the irresistible Cotton heated up with 13 of his 22 points in the final quarter.
The reigning NBL MVP had been on a tear to start the Wildcats' three-game home stand with a combined 64 points against Cairns and Adelaide, but was well held for the first three quarters in a defensive masterclass by Justin Simon, who has a 14cm height advantage.
Cotton eventually broke the shackles as the Wildcats wore down the Hawks in a dominant second half.
Clint Steindl picked up the slack in the early going with 17 points, while John Mooney (17 points and 16 rebounds) continued his strong form.
Hawks sharpshooter Justinian Jessup (16 points) cooled off after a sizzling start, while Cameron Bairstow (13 points and 6 rebounds) tried hard.
The red-hot Wildcats (12-4) moved clear on top of the ladder, while the Hawks (9-8) are stuck on the same points as Brisbane and Sydney.
"I missed some shots early and they defended well, but I wanted to keep playing my game," Cotton said post game.
He had praise for Simon too, saying: "He's a true warrior and made it tough but that's why we play the game."
An upset appeared on the cards when the hot-shooting Hawks nailed 10 of their first 13 field goals to storm out to an early 12-point lead - the largest deficit the Wildcats have faced at home this season.
Their swarming defence was equally effective and stymied Cotton, who scored just two points in the first quarter.
He threatened to get going with a three-point play early in the second stanza, but the well-drilled Hawks held sway until a late 7-0 run from the home side closed the clap to just two points at the long break.
The Hawks rued not being further ahead as the Wildcats stepped up their defensive intensity in the second-half and Cotton finally found his stroke, nailing a trio of three-pointers to ensure the home team won their sixth straight game.