NWBL Round 3 Wrap

NWBL Round 3 Wrap

The Salties have solidified their NWBL title aspirations with three wins over ladder leaders the Wheelcats at home in Darwin.

Game 1 went down to the wire with the Salties coming away with a 70-66 win aided by four players in double figures while for the Wheelcats, Tom McHugh (33 points) and Shaun Norris (22 points) combined for 55 of Perth’s 66 points.

The Salties’ ability to rotate their four high pointers throughout each game made it hard for Perth to keep pace, lapses in the second quarter of both Saturday games brought Darwin back into Game 1 and established a solid lead in Game 2.

On Sunday, Perth only trailed by five at halftime but the third quarter saw Darwin outscore the Wheelcats 17-5 on the way to a 63-46 win. Curiously, the sides scored an equal number of points in the fourth quarter of all three games.

“It took a game for us to find our combinations and game plan,” said Tom O’Neill-Thorne after the weekend. 

“We made some adjustments across the weekend, but had solid contributions from everyone, really showing our depth.”

There was an even spread of scorers for the Salties led by Jaylen Brown (17ppg) with Jannik Blair and Sam White creating space for their shooters. 

“Jaylen Brown seemed more settled this weekend and was relentless attacking the rim. He turned it up a gear with his intensity which freed up our shooters in space.”

The three wins were Darwin’s first on their home floor, much to the delight of Salties faithful.

“It was also great to be able to play in front of our home crowd. Since the beginning this has been the goal for the Salties to bring wheelchair basketball to Darwin, and it was great to see such strong local support across all three games. It definitely helped lift the team during our scoring runs with the crowd backing us.”

In Melbourne, the Heelers played their first home games but couldn’t get the result, losing three hard fought games to the Spartans.

After a 64-53 win in Game 1, the Spartans exploded out of the blocks in Game 2 scoring the first 14 points of the match. Eithen Leard had 15 of his 29 points in the first quarter and although Red Dust outscored Southern Districts in the remaining three quarters, the visitors held on to win 66-58.

Game 3 was locked at 46-46 with 5:16 remaining but a basket by Jake Fullwood and back to back baskets by Leard gave the Spartans some breathing room and eventually the win 56-52.

“Despite some poor starts and occasional skill errors throughout the games, our young group has shown promising glimpses of their potential. These moments indicate a bright future ahead as we continue to develop and refine our skills,” said Red Dust coach Josh Allison.

Despite the losses, Allison said the side was building in confidence even though there had been limited opportunities to train together as a team.

“I thought our young players, Mitch Bond and Kane Downie, really stepped up by confidently taking and making their outside shots. Their performance adds a significant boost to our team’s overall play.”

For the Spartans, getting all three wins was a major boost to their top four aspirations.

“They were fun games. Close games like that are what we play for.  And winning them at the end just makes it better,” said Jake Fullwood after Sunday’s win.

“Our main focuses where using the clock to apply shot pressure and to avoid fouling. We don’t want to over complicate things and put stress on us.“

The Spartans next travel to Darwin in Round 4 to play the Salties.

“Darwin are a very deep team so playing them at their home is going to be a challenge but if Perth can give them a close one so can we.”

In South Australia, it was anything but close as Australian pair Shawn Russell and Tristan Knowles looked to claim the Roller Hawks points in a game record held by Brett Stibners, who didn’t make the trip to Adelaide.

“Without captain Stibners here we saw the opportunity to maybe have a crack at his scoring title which has been in place for a pretty long period of time so Huss was successful in taking that on Saturday morning and I thought I’d have a go at it last (Saturday) night,” said Knowles.

Russell scored 61 points, shooting 30 from 40 with Luke Pople chiming in with a triple double as the Roller Hawks took Game 1, 102-16.

But Knowles wasn’t prepared to let the record stand for long. 

The league’s leading three point scorer tried to get his Saturday night going from beyond the arc but missed his first three attempts.

He finished with 5/14 from three point range but his 74 point haul was really off the back of the Roller Hawks unwavering defense that led to easy transition baskets which allowed Knowles to go 29/30 inside the three point line.

“We saw last week there were a few elements of our quarter court defensive game that needed a bit of polish and a weekend like this despite Adelaide being a development side really allowed us go focus on that defensive end and to keep them to under 20 points three games in a row was one thing that we wanted to get out of this weekend,” said Knowles.

On Sunday there were no individual scores chased but the Roller Hawks still finished with an 82-20 win. The three massive wins and Perth’s losses handed the number one spot on the ladder over to Wollongong.

For Adelaide it was another harsh lesson for an inexperienced team.

“We’re just focusing on fundamentals, keeping the energy levels up,” said Adelaide captain Fernando Grez Mondial.

“That’s the only thing you can control. Little things; getting less turnovers every game, increasing the shooting percentage, focusing on that for now and seeing improvement towards the end of the season.”

The NWBL now has a week long break with the Australian Rollers and Gliders traveling to Melbourne for a series of exhibition games as part of Ballin 24 which sees Australia’s men’s and women’s wheelchair and able bodied teams along with the 3×3 teams together for a week.

The Rollers games against Japan will be the last hit out before the final twelve for Paris is announced.

“I’ve never played for Australia on home soil, so I’m really excited to play in front of some family and friends,” said Tom O’Neill-Thorne.

“I think it’ll be a really fun week. Obviously a bit stressful with selection looming. The depth of talent in Australia at the moment is incredible, so I’m happy I’m not a selector. I’m really excited to see the group and be back around some high quality Rollers basketball.”

The men’s and women’s leagues will resume on July 12, 13 & 14 with the Roller Hawks hosting Perth, Red Dust Heelers at home to Manly and Darwin hosting Southern Districts.

In the WNWBL Queensland Comets host the Sydney Blues and Sydney Uni hosts the Perth Wheelcats.