Wildcats fate now rests with beating Kings
The Perth Wildcats had no answers on Friday night at RAC Arena for the defensive pressure and intensity, and heart and spirit of an undermanned Cairns Taipans with the Snakes romping to the 84-71 win.
The stage was set for a Wildcats victory inside The Jungle in front of 11,668 fans with that to all but guarantee their place in the top six and a spot in the play-in tournament.
The Taipans might have been still fighting over second position themselves, but had lost to the 'Cats in the last 10 meetings, hadn’t won in Perth in almost three years and coach Adam Forde had never beaten the Wildcats in three seasons against his hometown team.
Throw in the fact that the Taipans were missing two of their best and most important players, Keanu Pinder and Tahjere McCall, along with veteran guard Mirko Djeric, and they were coming off a loss at home on Monday to Adelaide, and everything was pointing in the right direction for Perth.
The Wildcats came into the last round with destiny in their own hands. Two wins at home to Cairns and Sydney would guarantee a playoff spot and keep them in the hunt of a fourth place finish to avoid the fifth against sixth elimination play-in game.
Perth also welcomed back Tai Webster so were at full strength, but right from the start of the contest it was clear that the Taipans were playing with greater effort and purpose, and just wouldn’t be denied.
What the Snakes did was put up the best first quarter of any visiting team in RAC Arena this season to lead 30-16. They were still up 12 at half-time and eight at three quarter-time even after TaShawn Thomas threatening to take charge in that third term for Perth.
The Taipans continued to have all the answers and six straight points from DJ Hogg midway through the fourth quarter and another five from Shannon Scott were the perfect response when the 'Cats were trying to build momentum as they went on to win by 13.
It was a brilliant defensive performance from the Taipans starting with 51 rebounds to 40, including 16 to eight at the offensive end for 19 second chance points.
They also scored 16 points from the 15 Perth turnovers and limited the 'Cats to shooting 35 per cent from the floor and 5/19 from deep.
Cairns had seven players scoring at least eight points in the game with Bul Kuol top-scoring with 15, DJ Hogg 14 and Majok Deng 14 to go with 11 rebounds as they racked up 32 points off the bench to four from the Wildcats.
Bryce Cotton had 28 points for Perth to go with 13 rebounds and seven assists. TaShawn Thomas had a big third quarter and finished with 23 points and seven rebounds with Brady Manek contributing 12 points.
But they just didn’t get enough contributors. Corey Webster had just two points on 1/6 shooting, Luke Travers two points on 1/7, Tai Webster one-point on 0/2 and captain Jesse Wagstaff one-point on 0/3.
It throws a real cat amongst the pigeons for the Wildcats.
They are now 14-13 and must beat the Sydney Kings at home on Sunday. By then they will know the scenario and what they need to do to knock out one of the Tasmania JackJumpers, South East Melbourne Phoenix, Melbourne United or the Adelaide 36ers.
Wildcats coach John Rillie is seeing a worrying trend early in games with his team's lack of ability to get on the glass, and when he sees that he knows it's going to be a long night.
"Our last three losses, there is certainly a trend with the way we've started the game and our application to rebounding," Rillie said.
"That was significant tonight and I think it was 17 to six in the first quarter. We just couldn’t get in the rhythm of the game and give them credit for doing a great job of controlling that part of the game.
"We did a good job of fighting back and bringing some life into it all, but maybe we spent too much energy in the tank. I just felt like we let the scoreboard dictate instead of just letting our play evolve through good play, and then the scoreboard takes care of itself when you're playing well."
The Wildcats remain home to host the Sydney Kings in a must-win affair on Sunday.