West Adelaide have made a big play in their title defence after a statement 71-80 win over North Adelaide in Hillcrest on Saturday.
In a potential finals preview, the Bearcats came out on top in a testy, physical and hard-fought defensive contest. The reactions of West Adelaide’s players and coaching staff providing a clear indication of how important this game was for the rest of the season.
North Adelaide now sit in 5th position at 7-6 while West Adelaide is now 3 games clear in 3rd spot with an impressive 10-3 record.
The Bearcats will not face another top 5 opponent until the last round of the season and have set themselves up for a run at the top 2 as their next four games are against opponents they have already beaten this year.
James Legan once again top scored with 26 points. Captain Patrick Thomas (11 pts, 4 rebs, 8 asts) put in a typically gutsy performance and only left the court for 31 seconds all night. The two guards were well supported by big men Tobias Dowdell (18 pts, 7 rebs) and Blake Truslove (11 pts, 6 rebs).
For the second time this year, the Bearcats were able to limit the offensive influence of Rockets star Alex Starling who was kept to 14 points—well below his average of 23.5. However, he was a big factor on defence, creating a remarkable 8 steals and collecting 13 rebounds. Clifford Reed (16 pts, 2 rebs, 4 asts) top-scored for North Adelaide, while Brad Jonnek (11 pts, 4 rebs, 2 asts) and Nick Marshall (11 pts, 4 rebs) also got on the scoreboard.
The performance marks a considerable turnaround from their loss to the Rockets in round 4, a game Bearcats Coach Corey MacLean says taught them a lot about how to win this time around.
“Effort matters,” says Coach MacLean.
“We felt the first time we played North we didn’t move the ball at all.
“I don’t think we did that tonight either, but I think defensively we got some key stops in the second half.”
Legan started affairs in typical fashion, draining a catch-and-shoot three on the game’s first possession. It was the first of 8 points he would score in the first quarter. Dowdell quickly followed suit with 6 points of his own.
But the Bearcats only made seven shots in the first 10 minutes; North Adelaide’s defence stepping up to ensure the teams would go into the first change tied at 17.
North Adelaide started to open up the game in a more free-flowing second quarter. Things looked ominous after an alley-oop from Clifford Reed to Atem Atem put the Rocket 6 points up.
But Legan came through again with a four-point play, drawing contact after an open corner three. Dowdell added another 6 to his total to keep the Bearcats in touch.
North edged out to a 42-40 lead at halftime; a huge block from Adam Schild and a 3-point play from Alex Starling giving the home side momentum heading into the second half.
In a mirror image to the last time they met, the game completely turned after halftime.
West clamped down on defence to keep North to just 4 points in the last six minutes of the third quarter. Although not firing on all cylinders, the Bearcats scored 16 points in this time period to lead 54-62 at the final change.
Coach MacLean says he was proud of his team’s defensive effort after a sloppy first half.
“That was a really good quarter defensively,” says Coach MacLean.
“I thought we gave them some real cheap ones in the first half where we miss scouted stuff, or we just got hit on the screen.
“We played a little bit more zone in the second half them we normally do as a bit of a tactic.
“We didn’t think over the last few weeks their zone offence had been cooking away and we decided to implement that a bit more.”
West Adelaide were in the driver’s seat with only 10 minutes to play. A timely three by 6th man Tristan Braithwaite at the start of the fourth quarter ensured Bearcats fans would not have to deal with any last-minute nerves.
In a last-ditch attempt to get back into the game, the Rockets started pressing up the court to trap West Adelaide in transition.
The Bearcats turned the ball over six times in the last quarter, forcing Coach MacLean to call a timeout in the dying minutes to steady the ship.
“We just needed to calm down,” says Coach MacLean
“They were trapping us, and teams don’t generally trap us much and we didn’t handle it too well.
“After that (timeout) we calmed down and didn’t turn the ball over again.”
A wide open Dowdell put the icing on the cake with an emphatic dunk in the last few seconds to give the Bearcats their 10th win of the season.
While it was one of West Adelaide’s best defensive performances all year, Coach MacLean remains cautious about his team’s play on offence.
“We rushed a little bit,”
“We had 20 turnovers for the game, that’s the first time all year we’ve had more turnovers than assists.”
The Bearcats finished with just the 16 assists, well below par for a team which regularly pushes for 30 dimes a game.
West Adelaide’s next opponent is Jake Rios and the Eastern Mavericks who gave the Bearcats a huge scare in Morphett Vale back in round 5.