Minor premiership in Breakers' sight
THE New Zealand Breakers all but wrapped up the NBL's minor premiership with a 101-99 overtime victory against the Perth Wildcats at Challenge Stadium late last night in arguably the game of the season.
New Zealand Breakers 101 (Jackson 23, Wilkinson 18, Corletto 12, Vukona 12, Pledger 12)
The Breakers fell 12 points behind during the third quarter and trailed by as much as nine in the last.
But an amazing Mika Vukona tip-in with eight seconds left in regulation capped an 8-2 Breakers' run to send the game into overtime.
Tom Abercrombie hit a big three and then Mika Vukona and Gary Wilkinson combined for the Breakers' last nine points to lead them to victory.
Shawn Redhage nailed two free-throws and then converted a breakaway three-point play with a minute to go to put Perth 99-98 in front.
Wilkinson then hit the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning basket with 27 seconds remaining in overtime off another sweet CJ Bruton (7 assists) feed.
The win for New Zealand improves them to 18-6, two wins ahead of the Wildcats who are 16-9.
Point guard Cedric Jackson was tremendous for New Zealand with 23 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Gary Wilkinson had foul trouble but still had 18 points, seven boards and five assists. Alex Pledger, Vukona and Daryl Corletto all had 12 points as well.
Kevin Lisch hit four three-pointers for the Wildcats on his way to 27 points in a hard-driving display.
Shawn Redhage had 16 points and Matt Knight 15 to go with six boards and five assists after coming into the game with a sore shoulder.
Damian Martin contributed eight points, nine assists and six boards.
The Breakers started the game on fire racing to a 9-1 advantage, but Knight's immediate impact off the bench swung the momentum for the Cats as they streaked ahead by double figures early in the third quarter.
A run of 10 straight points to Corletto kept New Zealand in touch, and the Breakers' tremendous final 15 minutes gave them a hard-fought victory to set up their title defence.
"I thought Cedric did a great job accepting the challenge on Kevin [Lisch] in the second half and while he still made some tough shots, I think we made his life more difficult," coach Andrej Lemanis said.
"That was the second overtime game we've been involved with and we've been able to win both of them, one at home and one on the road. I thought the guys showed some great character down the stretch."
Wildcats coach Rob Beveridge was a little less happy after the game, but was delighted with the efforts of his players.
"I was exceptionally proud of them. We talk about how we want to be relentless all the time and tonight it was an eight out of 10.
"It was good and that shows we still have room for improvement. In commitment we gave ourselves a seven out of 10 so it was pretty good," Beveridge said.