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Featured News / February 11th, 2017

Illawarra Hawks v Brisbane Bullets Game Preview

Illawarra Hawks v Brisbane Bullets

When: 5.30pm (AEDT), Saturday 11 February

Where: WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong

Broadcast: NBL TV; Fox Sports; Sky Sports NZ

Not up for the fight
In the cold night air of Hisense Arena last Monday night, the Illawarra Hawks were found out, the players knew it, and they didn’t wait for coach Rob Beveridge to get to the change-rooms to address it.

“We spoke about it before Bevo raised it,” captain Oscar Forman said.

“It wasn’t there, the urgency and desperation, that’s what carried (United) for a lot of that first half. It just looked like we were a team that thought we were already in the finals.”

Somehow, the Hawks came within six points of Melbourne despite being hammered by 11 in the possession game, and that’s what stung Beveridge the most.

“I didn’t think we were up for the fight,” he said.

“The last couple of games we played with such urgency and desperation, and it showed whenever there was a 50-50 ball, we didn’t get it … they outrebounded us, they had 10 offensive rebounds in that third quarter.”

Up and down
Remarkably, for a team that has sat in either second or third place for the past 10 rounds – and has the longest current run in the top four – Illawarra have only once won more than two games in a row.

“That’s kind of been a bit of a trend with this team for a while now,” Forman said.

“When we get comfortable we go out and get our arses kicked. When we’re fighting for it we come back and play amazing.”

Both those sides of the Hawks were on show the last time they hosted the Bullets in Round 15, falling 14 points behind late in the second term before storming home to prevail in a thriller.

“I didn’t like the way we defended, our containment was average, they had way too many open shots,” Beveridge said of the first half.

High-speed Bullets
Brisbane caught their hosts by surprise that night, unveiling a high-speed game plan in contrast to their methodical approach for most of the season.

But the Hawks knuckled down impressively after intermission, holding the Bullets to 31 points on 39 per cent shooting and forcing 12 turnovers to claim a vital come-from-behind win.

Rotnei Clarke scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to make it 56 points on 56 per cent shooting against the Bullets this year, but it was role players like Mitch Norton, Kevin White, Cody Ellis and Tim Coenraad who had the biggest plus-minus thanks to their never-say-die play.

“What I loved about it was the fight we had,” Beveridge said.

“You can say we got out of jail as much as you like but sometimes you make your own luck and we worked out butts off and kept chipping away.

“We just said we’re not going down without a fight and it was one of the best comebacks we’ve ever had, but I didn’t think it was a fluke, I thought the way we defended was outstanding.”

Playoffs come early
The Hawks welcome Brisbane to the ‘Gong this Saturday night in a game that could decide their playoff fate, and will be looking for a repeat of their dogged second-half effort in Round 15, which gradually overwhelmed Andrej Lemanis’ men.

“The momentum came from our defence,” forward Nick Kay said.

“We starting getting up (the floor) in that third quarter and the gap didn’t come down as much as we’d like, but it was that effort early in the third quarter that really started the momentum and got guys working a bit harder on defence.

“By the end of the game it wore them down a lot more than it did us.”

Kay was a key that night, playing the centre position after star big man AJ Ogilvy hit foul trouble, his defensive mobility and five steals crucial in countering Brisbane’s smaller line-ups.

“We put them on their heels for a lot of the game, and I think when AJ went out that kind of ended up helping them, they went a bit smaller and more mobile,” Bullets forward Daniel Kickert said.

After Kay’s insertion to the pivot with just over a minute to play in the third term, Illawarra outscored their visitors 29-14, shooting 10-of-16 from the field and dishing out seven assists.

“It changed the flow of the game for them, their mobility and their ability to stretch the floor with their mobile fours, it changed the way that game was played,” Lemanis said.

Given Brisbane’s lack of big men with Cam Bairstow and Anthony Petrie sidelined, Saturday’s game will likely be played in the same fashion, with the Bullets looking for early scoring opportunities against the Hawks’ pressure.

While there will be no Adam Gibson and Jermaine Beal, who combined for 27 points that night, Torrey Craig had a rare off night and the impressive Jeremy Kendle was yet to make his Bullets debut.

Controlling the controllables
While the Hawks will be ready this time, Lemanis feels his team can do a much better job in the key areas that gives Beveridge’s game style oxygen – boards, turnovers and free throws.

“If you go down the stats sheet we gave up 23 offensive rebounds, that’s an area we can control, and we had 21 turnovers, so that’s something that we can control.

They had 23 foul shots to our nine, and to control that I think there are some areas we can improve,” he said.

For Illawarra, a win guarantees post-season action for the third time in four years, while a loss will leave them in the unusual position of being Wildcats supporters on Sunday, with a Perth win over Melbourne the Hawks’ only avenue to fourth spot.

For Beveridge, the last meeting with Brisbane was a good warm-up for the playoffs, and tonight his team will have to treat it like the real thing.

“When you get into the playoffs it becomes a different game, and that was a really physical game, it was a grinding game,” he said.

Is it the way we want to play? From an entertainment perspective, probably not. But we’ve got to win games, so we’ve got to get down in the trenches, we’ve got to dig down and play the defence.”