Wildcats season comes to an end in Cairns
A Perth Wildcats season that promised to bring redemption ended unceremoniously against the Cairns Taipans on Sunday with the attention now turning to plans for NBL24.
After the remarkable 35-year finals streak ended last year for the Wildcats, there was change in the air with the arrival of coach John Rillie, who just happened to be the same man trying to bring the 'Cats down during his own storied playing career.
There was great hope of what this Wildcats team could accomplish and along the way there were signs of what they could do.
Bryce Cotton was brilliant and unlucky not to win a fourth MVP award as the league's leading scorer, but the deficiencies of the team who struggled defensively, were poor rebounding and ultimately left too much to their superstar were all on show on Sunday afternoon.
The Wildcats booked their place in Sunday's Play-In Game at Cairns Convention Centre on the back of a stunning 41-point fourth quarter on Thursday to overrun the South East Melbourne Phoenix and keep their season alive.
They brought that momentum with them to Far North Queensland and face a wounded Taipans outfit missing star pair Keanu Pinder and Tahjere McCall, and who were coming off a loss of their own to open the finals on Thursday at home to the Tasmania JackJumpers.
The Wildcats just never got going and by quarter-time the Snakes were leading 25-19.
DJ Hogg would go on to have 21 points to half-time with the Taipans leading 52-43 and that flattered the Wildcats with the visitors scoring seven of the last 10 points of the first half.
Cairns blew the game wide open in the third quarter to lead by as much as 16 and while there were brief flurries from Perth throughout the second half, they could never seriously threaten the Taipans.
Three-pointers in the fourth quarter from Bul Kuol, Ben Ayre and Lat Mayen showed the ability of the Taipans to get others to step up to help their stars and they would end up cruising to the 91-78 victory.
That means that the Taipans advance to a semi-final series with the Sydney Kings starting on Wednesday.
The season is over for the Wildcats and while they can say they returned to the finals NBL23 after the streak ended last year, there's not a whole lot else to be said about the whole campaign.
Bryce Cotton still battled manfully to finish with 19 points, 10 assists and six rebounds on 7/17 shooting for the Wildcats. The Taipans did all they could to limit his three-point attempts and get the ball out of his hands. He played his part by dishing out the 10 assists to try and get his teammates involved.
Not enough of them stepped up though. Corey Webster had 14 points on 5/14 shooting, Brady Manek 14 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 5/14, and Luke Travers five points, five rebounds and four steals on 2/7.
TaShawn Thomas had his moments with 14 points and four rebounds while Mitch Norton gave some good energy too with six points and three steals in 19 minutes of court time.
The Taipans just had too much, though, with DJ Hogg setting a finals franchise record with 32 points to go with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Bul Kuol added 23 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, and Sam Waardenburg 15 points and 10 boards.
Wildcats coach John Rillie will look back and take positives out of the season, but right now after being eliminated, it was hard for him to hide his disappointment.
"It's very disappointing. You're at the time of the year you want to keep playing and we weren’t the best team out there so that's very disappointing," Rillie said.
"When you finish sixth and you don’t win a championship, yes there's some moments to be happy about and to be proud, like the way we battled and got to the situation we did. But I didn’t take this job to finish sixth and lose out in a Play-In Game so no, I'm not proud of our season."
The first semi-final series also began on Sunday with the New Zealand Breakers beating the Tasmania JackJumpers 88-68 in Auckland. Game 2 will be in Hobart on Thursday while the Taipans and Kings do battle at Qudos Bank Arena starting Wednesday.
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