Wildcats lock in NBL top-two spot with win over Taipans

Chris Pike |

Perth Wildcats clinched a top-two finish when they beat the Cairns Taipans at RAC Arena.
Perth Wildcats clinched a top-two finish when they beat the Cairns Taipans at RAC Arena.

The Perth Wildcats have had to fight hard to overcome a plucky Cairns Taipans but pulled away late to win 117-88 and lock away a top-two NBL finish.

Cairns put in a spirited showing at RAC Arena on Saturday but finishing the game without Sam Waardenburg (foot injury) and Bul Kuol (fouled out) proved too much.

With much to play for, Perth (17-9) secured second spot by scoring 33 of the game’s last 39 points, turning a two-point lead into a 29-point win over the last seven minutes.

Superstar Bryce Cotton top-scored for the ‘Cats with 26 points and four assists with Keanu Pinder adding 18 points and nine rebounds, Jordan Usher 18 points, Kristian Doolittle 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Next Star Alex Sarr 14 points and 11 boards.

Bryce Cotton
Bryce Cotton (r) led Perth with 26 points. (Richard Wainwright/AAP PHOTOS)

“The second half is going to be easy for people to evaluate that we played well, but the pace and the way the game was going in the first half was a good style for us,” said Wildcats coach John Rillie.

“We just had to tighten a couple of things up and you see when we’re dialled in for a nice chunk of time that we’re an explosive team that way.”

Taipans coach Adam Forde had a clear game plan, with exploiting Perth point guard Tai Webster’s defence a big focus, while Waardenburg had his best showing of NBL24 until getting hurt.

He hit three triples for 19 points in the first half but it was a game with plenty of free-flowing offence, and not a whole lot of defence and scores were tied at 30-30 at the end of the first quarter.

It was 57-57 by halftime with Perth shooting 56 per cent and Cairns 57 per cent before the dam wall began to break in the third quarter with the home team going up seven.

The Wildcats were then able to pull away with the Snakes’ cause hampered when Waardenburg’s night ended with his  foot injury and Kuol fouled out to start the fourth quarter.

“It just pulled up a little bit and after seeing Lamb (Anthony, New Zealand Breakers forward who ruptured his Achilles last Sunday) go down, that’s unfortunate and I didn’t want to risk anything like that,” Waardenburg said.

“I don’t really know much about the Achilles, but it felt uncomfortable so I didn’t want to risk it.”

Perth are guaranteed their top-two finish ahead of road games next week to Illawarra on Thursday and Tasmania on Saturday.

They ended up shooting 55 per cent from the field while going 27-of-36 at the foul line along with 16 offensive rebounds for 18 second-chance points.

Patrick Miller delivered 25 points and five assists for Cairns with Bobi Klintman adding 11 points with the Snakes now 11-16 and at home against top-placed Melbourne United to finish on Friday.