Wildcats beat Taipans to go top
A dominant first half has helped mark the Perth Wildcats return to RAC Arena in style, going top of the NBL ladder with a 93-75 win over the Cairns Taipans on Friday night.
The Wildcats were the standout team over the last month in Melbourne at the NBL Cup winning seven of eight games to claim the trophy, and on Friday night they built an early lead over the Taipans and were never threatened in front of 9997 screaming Red Army fans at their parochial home venue.
The 'Cats came out on fire and Cotton took seven three-point attempts in the first quarter alone trying to make a statement. By late in the first term they led by 14 points, that grew to 20 shortly before half-time and from there the Taipans never got it back closer than 13.
Cairns did fight the game out but Perth was never in any real jeopardy at any point with Cotton delivering another 28 points and five assists while going 6/16 from deep.
Mooney was tremendous again with 21 points, eight rebounds and three assists while going an efficient 7/8 from the floor with Blanchfield contributing 17 points, five rebounds and two steals.
The Wildcats are now on top of the NBL with a 10-4 record having won four straight, and coach Trevor Gleeson liked that they set the tone early.
"It was a little bit of a focus of ours just to make sure we start off and set the tone early in the game," Gleeson said.
"I thought we came out really good and the starting group got on top of what we were doing, and set the tone for the rest of the game. We had that first initial burst and then were able to back it up so it was very pleasing."
It was a fourth straight loss for the Taipans as they slip to 4-13 on the season, and they just needed to get more contributors across the board.
While Scott Machado had 16 points and four rebounds, he was without an assist for the second time in his NBL career. Kouat Noi had 14 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, but 12 of his points came in the opening half.
Cam Oliver had just six points on 3/10 shooting, Mirko Djeric seven points on 3/10 shooting and Fabijan Krslovic fouled out in less than seven minutes. Next Star Mojave King was also scoreless on four shot attempts in 12 minutes.
Nate Jawai was a bright spark in the second half and finished with 13 points and five rebounds while Jordan Ngatai battled hard for 10 points.
Taipans coach Mike Kelly didn’t necessarily fault the effort of his group, but trying to play catch up in Perth is never going to be an easy way to success.
"I think they got some looks early and knocked them down, and got to feeling pretty good about themselves," Kelly said.
"I think we were trying to stick to the game plan and our guys did that, and they played through a barrage of shots. When you're getting scored on, the double injury there is offensive rebounds and they got five of them in the first quarter and they were shooting the ball well.
"Perth will do that if you don’t attack them physically to stop them from getting to the O-boards. They did a better job than us to get that 12-point buffer and we never got it back. We just kind of traded there with them the rest of the game. We tried to do some things to change it up and they kept feeling good."
The Wildcats were on a high after winning the NBL Cup and a stunning comeback win over Adelaide on Sunday, and kept that momentum rolling for a 16-4 start against the Taipans with Bryce Cotton, John Mooney and Jesse Wagstaff hitting from three early doors.
The Taipans steadied late in the first term thanks to the injection of Jordan Ngatai and Nate Jawai, but they were still down 12 after one.
Two more Cotton threes and then another that turned into a four-point play saw the 'Cats pull away further in the second term. A couple of Todd Blanchfield threes saw the lead grow to 20 as he has 12 points for the half.
Cotton added 18 on 5/13 from three-point land for Perth to be in control 55-40.
But Cairns showed some fight led by Scott Machado to open the second half to get back to within 13 points. Perth responded to go on a 10-0 run but then the Snakes finished the third quarter with threes to Ngatai and Machado, and a crafty finish from a steal to Jawai on the buzzer.
Jawai hit a purple patch in the last quarter for Cairns in a fascinating duel with Mooney, but still the Snakes couldn’t close the gap and Perth cruised to the 18-point win in front of their home fans.
The Wildcats remain at home to host the Adelaide 36ers on Monday while the Taipans remain on the road to play the Sydney Kings on Sunday.
IMAGE: Herald Sun.