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Featured News / February 17th, 2017

Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats G1 Semi Final Preview

SF1: Cairns Taipans v Perth Wildcats

When: 7.30pm (AEDT), Friday 17 February

Where: Cairns Convention Centre

Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sport NZ

A time to run
Cairns Taipans coach Aaron Fearne watches pretty much every minute of every NBL game to pick up the trends around the league, and there’s one thing that’s stood out clearly to him.

“Teams are really trying to run on us, I can see it,” he said.

“I can see their coaching staff, the way we want to coach, they just feel they can get those easy buckets on us and we’re going to have to be on top of that.”

As he gets his team ready to take on the Perth Wildcats in Game 1 of their semi-final series at The Snakepit on Friday night, Fearne knows he can expect more of the same.

“Last time we played Perth they tried to play a lot quicker against us,” he said.

While the Wildcats have been the league’s second lowest-scoring team this season and, along with the Taipans, played with the slowest pace, that was never coach Trevor Gleeson’s plan.

Speed and athleticism
The absence of the open-court genius that is Damian Martin prevented the Wildcats from generating the run they desired for much of the season, but with their captain now alongside human blurs in Casey Prather and Bryce Cotton, the ‘Cats are cleared for take-off.

“We want to play up-tempo,” Gleeson said.

“Obviously Casey has got speed and athleticism and we want to tap into that, Bryce has got speed and athleticism, we want to tap into that.

“When you have that combination and you have arguably the best defensive player in NBL history you can create some havoc in the backcourt, and that’s been a strength of ours.”

The usually-composed Taipans have been susceptible to Perth’s pressure, coughing up 17.7 turnovers per game in their past three meetings, up from 12.3 across the rest of the season.

Made the adjustment
Cairns have been particularly struggled against the Wildcats’ full-court press, which has ramped up the intensity to levels not seen since Rob Beveridge was pacing the Perth sidelines.

But in the second half of their Round 18 clash in the Far North, the Taipans finally figured out a solution as they outscored the visitors 49-36 en route to a come-from-behind victory.

“Those little sharp things you’ve got to keep on top of,” Fearne said of his press-breaker.

“We weren’t very good early on with it but we made an adjustment, just the way we attacked it with the pass and were catching it in the right spots.”

While statistics tell us speeding up the Taipans goes against the way they want to play, there are lies, damn lies and statistics.

Fearne wants his team to play fast, just not in the way teams like Adelaide and Illawarra do, and it starts with point guard Travis Trice, who has scored just 28 points and had 11 turnovers to 12 assists against Damian Martin and Perth.

Trice time
“The way for Travis to really get himself going and the team going is to push with pace,” Fearne said.

But once down the court, instead of testing the defence with quick penetration, the Taipans move the ball quickly from side-to-side, examining how opponents can defend multiple screening action on and away from the ball.

Once that’s done, it back to Trice to finish the job if the offence hasn’t created an open look.

“Travis can be extremely impactful early in the shot clock with his pace, but then can be really, really good at the end of the clock when we’ve moved people around and he can work off an on-ball and he can make plays or isolate and get that done,” Fearne said.

Yet while Trice, Nate Jawai, Mark Worthington, Cam Gliddon and Tony Mitchell are the big names in orange, the reality is the Cairns bench is most responsible for their second-placed finish.

The average plus/minus for Jarrad Weeks, Mitch McCarron, Stephen Weigh, Alex Loughton and Nnanna Egwu is +57.6 across the season, compared to -45 for the starting quintet.

Reputations mean nothing
Weeks and McCarron have been the standouts, the Taipans 224 and 184 points better off respectively when their backcourt back-ups are on the court rather than watching from the sidelines.

Have no doubt, if it’s his reserves getting the job done, Fearne will give them all the minutes they need to deliver a semi-final win.

“I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your resume says, it doesn’t concern me one bit,” he said.

“I know how I want my teams to play, the game plans that we put in place, the execution that you need from that, and you find a group that’s doing that really well on the night.”

These teams split their season series 2-2, Cairns winning both at home thanks to a 27-point advantage in bench scoring, but when Perth prevailed the Taipans’ advantage in that area was just five.

“If we’re going to be successful we need our bench to be productive,” Gleeson said.

Martin will lead the defence with his relentless approach, while Prather and Cotton combined for 95 points and 23 assists last round and Cairns had few answers for Cotton in Round 18.

It’s when their role-playing teammates do their jobs the men in red become a fearsome unit, and that’s exactly what happened as the Wildcats won four of their last five games to sneak into the playoffs.

In his past four outings, Jarrod Kenny has shot 5-of-8 from long range and had eight assists to just three turnovers, while the retiring Shawn Redhage has scored 23 points in his past 35 minutes.

Jesse Wagstaff shot 60 per cent from long range last weekend, and when he nails 50 per cent or better the Wildcats are 8-3 this season.

“He’s a big x-factor,” Prather said.

“Him coming off the bench to replace Matty (Knight) and stretch the floor is just great for me, and Bryce as well, to get into the lane and create a bit more, and when it kicks out to Jesse it’s a sure knock-down.”

Big-time battle
Perhaps most pleasing for Perth was the form of Knight and Jameel McKay, who have struggled to be an effective combination for most of the season, but against Melbourne combined for 29 points and 20 rebounds in just 49 minutes.

“Jameel was huge on the glass to give us those energy points, he made some big buckets,” Gleeson said.

“Matty Knight I thought was huge, I think he had 10 rebounds to the third quarter.”

That pair, along with Angus Brandt, have a huge job on Friday. Nate Jawai has dominated with 35 points and 16 boards in 47 minutes in his past two games against Perth, including a monstrous seven offensive rebounds the last meeting in Cairns.

“He really hurt us last game a couple of weeks ago up there on the glass,” Gleeson said.

“We’ve got to be smarter and make sure we’re stretching the floor and getting him out from the rim because no one’s going to stop him, one-on-one no stops him at all, it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

Stepping up
Fearne sees Jawai and Mitchell as his game-breakers, having experience at high levels overseas, and he will be looking for Mitchell to take it to Prather at both ends.

“He needs to make an impact for us, because he’s a scorer, his athleticism, we need that from both him and Nate if we’re going to make some moves here,” he said.

The Wildcats have plenty of big-moment experience with seven of last year’s title team still on board, and Gleeson is confident his battle-hardened troops will come through when it matters.

“We know Wildcats teams step up when big games are on,” he said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have the nucleus of this team win two championships while I’ve been there and some of them have won three, in big games they step up.”