By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Thursday, February 21, 7pm (local), Perth Arena
Radio: Sunshine FM
Last time they met: Perth 83 (Lisch 16, Carter 14, Redhage 12) d Melbourne 79 (Flynn 24, Goulding 15, Rush 14), Round 19, State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne
In last Sunday’s post-game press conference Chris Anstey was asked if the Tigers could make the playoffs without winning one of their three remaining games against New Zealand and Perth.
“If you go 0-8 against New Zealand and Perth, whether or not you make the finals it’s a waste of time,” he said.
Anstey continued, but growing evermore fidgety in his seat captain Tommy Greer eventually interrupted.
“We’re not trying to dodge anyone, we play Perth, we play New Zealand, we’re trying to win,” he said passionately.
And for the first time this season the Tigers looked capable of doing just that, as Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge noted.
“They're now in the playoff race and that’s where they thoroughly deserve to be,” he said.
Melbourne clearly won the possession game against the masters of offensive rebounding and forcing turnovers.
Beveridge wasn’t surprised by the Tigers’ physicality and intensity, adding, “it’ll happen again and we’ve got to be prepared for it” in Thursday night’s replay.
“Were we lucky? I don’t think so, I thought we grinded it out,” he said.
“(But) if they make playoffs I know they could beat us, so that’s why we’ve got to stay on top of that, you can’t take anybody lightly.”
Beveridge will demand the defence they show in the second-half from tip-off this week after Melbourne rode Adam Ballinger and Chris Goulding to 46 first-half points.
Anstey must make some defensive adjustments of his own after Perth nailed 7-of-8 triples in 10 match-winning minutes.
“I thought in the last quarter we were hesitant on our rotations,” Anstey said.
“We’ve got to trust our teammate is going to take care of the next pass and just get there and take care of the biggest threat.”
For Greer, Thursday is simply about finishing something the Tigers set out to do last week.
“After the game my feeling was, ‘Let’s get to Thursday and beat these guys’.”
Before last Sunday, the Wildcats were averaging 71.9 field-goal attempts, but were restricted to 55 by Melbourne, the fewest in Beveridge’s time as coach.
Melbourne launched 66 field goals and had 73 scoring opportunities in total, both above average for a Wildcats opponent.
Even in the final quarter the Tigers had one more scoring opportunity and shot a respectable 44 per cent from the field, but had no answer for Perth’s blistering 8-of-11 shooting performance.
Ballinger and Goulding combined for 24 points at 67 per cent from the field in the first half but went scoreless on just five shot attempts after half-time, three of which came in the final 35 seconds.
The Tigers’ superb rebounding last Sunday threw a spanner in the works after they had not looked capable of competing with Perth and New Zealand earlier in the season.
If they can again secure more scoring opportunities than the Wildcats they will have as good a chance of winning in Perth as any team this year.
Ironically though, it was perhaps their enthusiasm for the offensive boards that opened up Perth’s transition game in the final quarter and allowed the Wildcats some high-quality shots.
While Melbourne may seek more balance, don’t expect them to back down from the Wildcats’ physical challenge.
At the same time, Perth won’t allow Ballinger and Goulding the same open looks they had in the first half last week, nor will they allow Flynn as much of the ball on their home court.
Melbourne are determined to make a statement, but the Wildcats have spoken loud and clear at Perth Arena this season.
Prediction: Wildcats by 8