By Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Friday, February 15, 7pm (local), Perth Arena
Radio: Sunshine FM
Last time they met: Perth 62 (Lisch 17, Knight 15, Redhage 10) d Townsville 59 (Ervin 12, Blanchfield 11, M Cedar 11, Crawford 11, Nevill 11), Round 16, Perth Arena
He may be young, but Todd Blanchfield has been part of many Townsville teams that have capitulated to the Wildcats.
He is in no doubt why it was a different Crocs line-up that nearly pinched a win at Perth Arena in Round 16.
“Our halfcourt defence,” he said without hesitation.
“The last few weeks we’ve hung our hat on our one-on-one defence and that helped us coming into Perth, that kept us in the game.”
Blanchfield has been turning heads with his efficient offensive play this season, notably against Perth where his teammates have struggled, but he also made his mark guarding MVP Kevin Lisch in the first half of the Round 16 game.
“I’ve been just working on that stuff in individuals, improving my footwork,” Blanchfield said.
“Hopefully I’ll have a go at him again at some stage. It’s a great challenge, he’s one of the leading scorers in the league and it’s good fun guarding those guys.”
But Blanchfield is most needed on the boards, where he has significantly upped his production in recent weeks.
The Crocs were not disgraced on the glass in Round 16, but ultimately Perth’s 16 offensive rebounds to five proved decisive.
That not only helped create 17 more scoring opportunities for Wildcats, it also nullified Townsville's running game - Gary Ervin's in particular - and the Crocs could manage only 59 points as a result.
“They're just relentless, they're just there every time with four or sometimes five guys on the offensive boards,” Blanchfield said.
“Gary’s on-ball game and transition game is so important. If we can get stops and rebounds that lead to transition we look pretty good … if you run with him he’s going to get you the ball nine times out of 10.”
Against the Wildcats this season, Townsville have averaged 60 points at 34 per cent from the field, 24 per cent from the three-point line and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.8.
Against all other opponents those numbers are 78.9, 42, 33 and 1.2.
When Perth face the Crocs they have managed 70.7 points at 37 per cent from the field, 28 per cent from long range and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.9.
Against the rest of the NBL, the Wildcats produce 79.2, 41, 31 and 1.2.
Blanchfield has averaged 10.3 points at 50 per cent against Perth and his past three weeks have produced 13 points a game at 67 per cent and 6.3 rebounds.
While it is not the usual modus operandi in Perth, the Crocs need to increase the tempo with some measured risk taking given the Wildcats have prevailed in all three slow-down games this season.
Unlike previous incarnations, this Perth team is extremely comfortable choking opponents in the halfcourt, with the trouble teams have experienced shooting in the cavernous Perth Arena making the possession game even more crucial.
The Wildcats double-teamed Nevill early in Round 16 and some fast-paced inside-out play could be the key to Townsville generating flow in their offence.
Perth are the NBL’s best at preventing ball reversals, however, so Townsville will have to be decisive with their cuts and precise with their spacing.
If the Crocs' shooters can connect early, this will be very interesting, but the Wildcats should be good enough to see off another strong challenge.
Prediction: Wildcats by 6