Wildcats and JackJumpers gear up for NBL Finals assault

Chris Pike |

Bryce Cotton driving to the basket in the Wildcats’ win over the Taipans in Perth.
Bryce Cotton driving to the basket in the Wildcats’ win over the Taipans in Perth.

The Perth Wildcats and Tasmania JackJumpers have flexed their NBL muscles, winning their latest matches by a combined 56 points to gear up for what could be a fascinating playoffs match-up.

Briefly on Saturday night with their 94-67 win against the South East Melbourne Phoenix, the JackJumpers put themselves in the hunt to snatch second position off the Wildcats.

With a game against each other next Saturday, Tasmania needed Perth to lose at home to Cairns, and then also away to Illawarra on Thursday.

The Wildcats weren’t in that sort of mood, though.

They turned a two-point lead with seven minutes to go at RAC Arena against the Taipans into an eventual 117-88 victory to lock away second spot at 17-9.

Tasmania were able to dominate the severely undermanned Phoenix with their coach Mike Kelly even finding himself ejected in the third quarter.

The Taipans fought valiantly but were blown away late after losing Sam Waardenburg (Achilles) and Bul Kuol (fouling out) on a night when the Wildcats and JackJumpers continued their post-season preparation.

The JackJumpers improved to a 15-12 record to ensure they’ve finished with a winning record in all three seasons of their existence, and their momentum is building.

Tasmania have won the last three games and have had seven players scoring double-figures, leaving coach Scott Roth to declare: “I’m just proud of the group to get 15 wins in a season like this with the competition the way it is, it’s a great statement by the organisation and the players.

“The season has been very choppy for us and we’ve had some moments where we could build some momentum and it got away from us, and we’ve had a couple of really tough losses we could have got over the line in.

“But our guys have just kept showing up, kept doing the work and never got distracted. They are all in and we’ve built a little bit of momentum.

“We’ve won three in-a-row and four of our last five, and that’s a good sign.”

The Wildcats unleashed their firepower with a 33-6 run to close the game against the Taipans in their final regular-season home game.

Coach John Rillie knows locking in a top-two finish is only the start of their ultimate goal.

“We’ve achieved something, but it’s not the ultimate,” he said.

“Do you feel like I can relax in this job? No, there you go.

“We’re going Thursday to play a team (Illawarra) that has destroyed us, made us look average, so we still have things to accomplish in the regular season let alone worrying about what’s going to happen next month.”