Tip-off: Monday, December 31, 6.30pm (local), WIN Entertainment Centre, Wollongong
TV: NBL.TV (live)
Last time they met: Wollongong 74 (Deleon 18, Saville 15, Davidson 12) d Melbourne 66 (Flynn 19, Walker 11, Scott 10), Round 8, State Netball & Hockey Centre, Melbourne
Glen Saville has gathered a lot of great memories from New Year’s Eve games, but the 36-year-old knows this might be the last time he plays in front of a big and boisterous December 31 crowd.
“This could be the last of a very big and very special occasion so it could be one to cherish, but from my point of view I haven’t arrived at that decision or given it too much thought,” he said.
“I'm just pretty happy with how things have been progressing this season.”
An important part of that progress was the Hawks' Round 11 defeat of Perth, despite missing Larry Davidson, Tim Coenraad and Tyson Demos through injury.
Saville described it as a “very big win” to stave off the sort of injury-inspired slide the Hawks suffered in 2010/11 – when they free-fell from first place and missed the finals – and they can extend their gap on the chasing pack against Melbourne.
“When they get it all together they're going to be a very tough team, hopefully Monday night isn't one of those games,” he said.
Quickly emerging as the Tigers’ form guide is All-Star Game MVP Chris Goulding, whose hot shooting nights usually coincide with a Melbourne victory.
“When you look at it like that – when he has good games they win – he is definitely a player we are going to pay a lot of attention to,” Saville said.
Saville believes the shooting of Tigers’ big men Adam Ballinger and Seth Scott is what makes Goulding so dangerous.
“When teams start to collapse when Jonny Flynn is getting into the lane they have to cover those big guys, that really helps (Goulding),” he said
Conversely, though, when Goulding is cold, the Tigers lose and Saville said the key is limiting touches early and making sure he is a priority of the defensive rotations.
“You don’t want to leave someone like him open on the perimeter.”
Wollongong are 2-3 in home games played on New Year’s Eve and 5-4 overall on December 31.
The Hawks have played Melbourne twice on New Year’s Eve, winning by 16 and 22 points with Saville averaging 15.5 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
In Melbourne victories this season Goulding has averaged 22 points, at 56 per cent from the field, and 3.3 assists. In losses those numbers are 10.4 points, at 35 per cent, and 2.1 assists.
In Tigers wins, Scott and Ballinger have shot 35-of-49 from the field (71 per cent). In defeats they have connected on 66-of-126 (52 per cent).
The Hawks are as hard to beat as any team at home and their hard-fought win over Perth in Round 11 confirmed that even with injury concerns.
The Tigers will take confidence from their entertaining win over Cairns last round, but they have not been the same team away from home.
While Nate Tomlinson plays only a minor role, his absence will put extra pressure on Flynn and Goulding against arguably the league’s best backcourt and make it harder to create good shots for their big men as the game wears on.
When Rhys Martin, Lance Hurdle and Adris Deleon are able to get into the lane, Wollongong’s offence is near-impossible to stop if their shooters are on target.
In Round 8 in Melbourne the Hawks scored 74 points despite shooting just 41 per cent from the field, including an uncharacteristic 0-of-9 from Oscar Forman.
If Wollongong get the same open looks at home it will be a long night for the Tigers.
Prediction: Hawks by 10.