The Perth Wildcats just refuse to lose. Despite MVP Bryce Cotton joining captain Damian Martin on the sidelines and the New Zealand Breakers being in control for 35 minutes, the league-leaders pulled out a miraculous 91-86 win at RAC Arena on Sunday.
The Breakers started on fire with the opening 10 points and even though they were missing their own pair of Tall Blacks Shea Ili and Finn Delany, they remained on top of the contest.
New Zealand led by as much 16, were still up 11 early in the fourth quarter and by nine with five minutes to go.
Everything was pointing to a Breakers win against their fierce rivals despite the foul count going against them (14-23) for the third time this season, but this is a Wildcats team that refuses to lose.
Cotton joined Martin out injured with a finger injury suffered in Friday’s win in Auckland but the Wildcats found a different way to win.
Jesse Wagstaff hit all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter, Greg Hire had two points and five rebounds in the fourth term and then Terrico White came up huge with two massive threes to end the night with 21 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Nick Kay was tremendous all game with 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists with Mitch Norton strong too minus Martin and Cotton with 14 points, six assists and five boards.
Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson couldn’t have been prouder of the fight his team showed to improve to 10-1, particularly with 19 offensive rebounds and 24 second chance points pivotal.
“I was pretty disappointed in the first half with how we were playing, it wasn’t really Wildcats basketball. It was more of a pick-up basketball game but from half-time we were playing Wildcats basketball,” Gleeson said.
“Our defence was down there, we were sharing the ball and we had no right to win that game. It was just pure heart and grit that got us over in the end against pretty good opposition.”
There was a lot to like until the final five minutes for New Zealand with Armani Moore playing his best game of the season with 16 points and four rebounds on 6/8 shooting.
Tai Wesley added 16 points and seven rebounds, Tom Abercrombie 13 points and eight boards, Corey Webster 10 points and three assists, Jarrad Weeks 10 points and five assists, and Shawn Long nine points and 11 rebounds.
Breakers coach Kevin Braswell was making no excuses and felt his team crumbled in the final stretch.
“You know these guys aren’t just going to lay down, it’s not the nature of the team we’re playing against. In the fourth quarter we’re up eight or 10 almost the whole quarter, but then we just crumbled,” Braswell said.
“They made some great plays but we gave up too many offensive rebounds and it’s hard to beat this team if you are going to give up 19 offensive rebounds.
“You get into ball games where you have to come up with defensive boards in crucial moments. They are a team that if you let them hang around, this is what can happen in the end. We led the game for 36 minutes but crumbled in the last four minutes.”
It was a stunning start to the Breakers who hit the game’s opening 10 points thanks to Weeks and Wesley triples, and two strong moves inside by Long.
They also received five quick foul calls in just over two minutes having only had eight in total last time in Perth and 17 fewer than the Wildcats in Friday’s loss at home.
That wouldn’t continue with New Zealand on the right end of only two calls the rest of the half, but they did keep playing at a high-level.
Another 6-0 run from Wesley, Weeks and Webster saw the Breakers lead 24-14 after one with their lead blowing out to 14 early in the second when Richard knocked down a three.
Moore then caught fire for five quick points to give him nine in the space of six minutes as New Zealand led 41-25, and still by 48-35 at half-time after Abercrombie and White traded threes inside the last 20 seconds.
It was very much the status quo through the third quarter with the Breakers not quite able to kill the Wildcats off not leading by more than 11 while the Wildcats couldn’t quite close the gap and get closer than six either.
New Zealand was leading 68-59 by three quarter-time and remained in control through the first five minutes of the fourth period thanks to threes from Moore, Webster and Patrick Richard despite the Wildcats being in the bonus after less than three minutes.
But after Richard put New Zealand up 81-72, Perth took over and it was on the back of the trademark hustle from Hire, huge plays from the veteran Wagstaff and White stepping up in the absence of MVP Cotton.
Remarkably the Wildcats finished the game on a 19-5 run to go from nine points down to win by five with White hitting eight points in that run and Wagstaff four to stun the Breakers who had controlled the contest up to that point.
Both teams have several players in action for their countries over next week’s FIBA international break before Perth is on the road to the Sydney Kings on Thursday December 6.
New Zealand hosts the Kings two days later in their first game back.
NBL ROUND 7
PERTH WILDCATS 91 (Kay 22, White 21, Norton 14)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 86 (Wesley 16, Moore 16, Abercrombie 13)