Paulo Kennedy, Pagemasters
Tip-off: Friday, February 1, 7:30pm (local), Vector Arena, Auckland
TV: Sky Sports (New Zealand); NBL.TV (live)
Radio: Radio Sport NZ
Last time they met: Perth 89 (Redhage 20, Lisch 18, Robbins 11) d New Zealand 64 (Jackson 15, Hudson 12, Webster 11), Round 8, Perth Arena
Cedric Jackson has fond memories from his Cleveland State University days, none moreso than CSU’s intense rivalry with conference foe Butler.
“It was one of those rivalries with two top teams going at it. We would always be close to winning at their place but come up short, and they would get close to winning at our place but we would win,” he said.
“Then we won at their place and they came back to ours and won on a buzzer-beater, so it was always a down-to-the-wire game.”
Jackson and CSU had the last laugh as he collected 19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals in the Horizon League championship game his senior year, which Jackson described as “just amazing”.
“We just took care of business, it’s kind of fun talking about it and going down memory lane,” he said.
The discussion got him thinking about the rivalry the Breakers share with Perth, which Jackson sees as very similar to his college grudge matches.
“Now that I think about it, it seems that way,” he said.
“Playing against Shawn Redhage, Damian Martin and Kevin Lisch – all their top players – it’s kind of like a championship atmosphere every time, whether it’s at their place or ours.”
The Wildcats have stolen the march on their 2012 championship conquerors this season, with wins at home and on the road, so this game at a sold-out Vector Arena has enormous implications for the Breakers, who have been thoroughly out-hustled in both meetings.
“We have to match their intensity, they're playing so hard right now,” Jackson said.
And while the rivalry is incredibly fierce on-court there is an enormous amount of respect between the two teams, something that was heightened in Adelaide in December.
“I got a chance to get to know Shawn (Redhage) during the All-Star break,” Jackson said.
“It was different not playing against him, trying to keep him off the boards. I got a chance to get to know him and he’s a really cool guy.”
Against the Wildcats, Jackson averages 6.4 three-point attempts a game. Against the rest of the league he takes only three long-range attempts.
Jackson pulls in an average of 5.8 rebounds against all opponents bar Perth, against whom he collects 3.5.
Over the past two seasons the Breakers have averaged 13.3 offensive rebounds a game, but against Perth they have collected just 8.9.
In these teams’ eight meetings in the past two seasons, the Wildcats have had 55 more scoring opportunities, attempting more shots in all but one game.
Alex Pledger has pulled in two rebounds in 34 minutes against Perth this season. In last year’s grand final he averaged a board every four minutes.
The Breakers have found their best offensive form at the right time, with Tom Abercrombie, CJ Bruton and Daryl Corletto all firing from the perimeter.
If that continues, Perth will get the first true test of their relentless strong-side zones and their ability to contest a huge percentage of opposition shots.
Perth is as effective as any team at forcing Jackson away from the team offence. How effectively the Breakers star can balance scoring with getting teammates rhythm shots will be very important.
The biggest key for New Zealand is the possession game, an area in which the Wildcats have often triumphed.
After two embarrassing losses, though, expect Mika Vukona and Co to deliver on the boards and the Breakers to claim a thriller at Vector.
Prediction: Breakers by 1