United seal top spot in Perth
Melbourne United has laid down the marker to reigning champions Perth Wildcats, securing the NBL minor premiership with a 78-64 at RAC Arena on Friday night.
In what was the Annual Pink game for the Wildcats with the players donning pink uniforms for Breast Cancer Care WA, the visitors controlled the game from the outset in what was largely a dour contest.
United's victory was made more impressive having been on the road since Melbourne's COVID-19 outbreak and being mostly confined to their hotel rooms while in Perth due to border restrictions.
They were led by big man Jo Lual-Acuil, who tallied 16 points in just 14 minutes off the bench, while Jock Landale (14 points) dominated his matchup with Wildcats star John Mooney.
The Wildcats struggled for potency without MVP Bryce Cotton, whose season is over after recently requiring surgery to his left quadriceps.
Even though the two-time defending champions have locked up second spot on the ladder, they have lost consecutive games ahead of their 35th straight finals appearance.
Without their brilliant talisman, the Wildcats found buckets hard to muster and shot a woeful five of 18 from the field to trail 24-12 at the first break.
United threatened to blow the game open in the second stanza but turnovers proved costly as the Wildcats clawed back into the contest through trademark tenacious defence.
Boom recruit Will Magnay, who has struggled offensively since joining the Wildcats last month, threatened to get going in the paint but United regained a stranglehold midway through the third quarter.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Goulding nailed consecutive buckets as the visitors skipped out to a double-digit lead.
The Wildcats turned to young gun Luke Travers, who responded with a dynamic spurt to halt United's momentum heading into the final term.
But the visitors had all the answers in a one-sided last quarter to celebrate Mitch McCarron's 100th game for United in style.
Perth will open their finals campaign on Thursday night at RAC Arena, their opponent likely to be either South East Melbourne Phoenix or Illawarra Hawks depending on final round results.
IMAGE: The West Australian.