NBL 2014/15 Round 5: Undermanned United clamped down by Perth

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Already underdogs coming into the match, Melbourne were a dealt a blow prior to tip-off with Mark Worthington ruled out with an infected elbow. Also missing Nate Tomlinson due to the birth of his daughter, United sorely felt the loss of their two starters down the stretch as Perth recorded a 68-59 victory.

The lead sat above 10 for a majority of the second half but Melbourne could never get close enough to truly make it a contest. They kept Perth scoreless for over four minutes late in the fourth quarter but were unable to eat into the deficit as the Wildcats’ suffocating defence denied them a running game.

Both sides presented different starting line-ups, with Lucas Walker injected into the power forward position for Melbourne while the hosts replaced DeAndre Daniels with Jesse Wagstaff. The move paid off early with Wagstaff and Damien Martin knocking in three pointers as the Wildcats began the game with an 8-0 run.

An undersized roster meant Daniel Kickert had to control the paint for United and his 13 first half points helped draw the visitors level mid-way through the second term.

The Wildcats have not shown the explosive offence that viewers were treated to throughout last season but a 14-1 run to round out the first half gave the Perth Arena a thrilling reminder. A Tom Jervis dunk brought the crowd into the match before Mathiang Muo swung into action, scoring all 11 of his points in a frenetic second term. His efficient play settled Perth into a comfortable 13 point buffer by half-time.

Jordan McRae and Stephen Dennis were intent to get out in the open floor in the second half but despite were unable to pick away at the lead. Their up-tempo play only led to turnovers while Jermaine Beal found his groove at the other end, pouring in 8 for the term.

Two important steals from Drake U’u kept Perth in control of the match in the final period and despite shooting 8-17 from the free throw line as a team, they were able to weather the storm as Melbourne threw everything at them in the dying stages.

The calling card of the Wildcats is defence and that was again on show as they restricted Melbourne to a season low points total. Only two Perth players reached double figures (with Beal’s 14 leading the way) but ten hit the scoreboard.

After hitting the second shot of the night, Wagstaff (4 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) was quiet offensively while Daniels finished with 9, 5 and 4 in 21 minutes. It will be interesting to see if Wagstaff retains his place in the starting five next weekend as Daniels continues to look tentative.

Melbourne were out-rebounded by 7, giving up 12 second chance points but their guards had even less impact than their depleted front court. Dennis recorded 6 points, 7 boards and 4 assists but had 5 turnovers while McRae had 16 points at 35% shooting. Kickert finished with 17 after a strong first half while Walker made the most of his extended court time with 8 and 13 boards. In positive news, the development player Chris Patton saw his first minutes of the season, grabbing a rebound.

United have a quick turnaround as they host ladder leaders Cairns on Wednesday night. They then head to Adelaide on Saturday with Worthington’s status still an unknown. At 2-3, a double-header without their co-captain could put Melbourne well behind the top four by this time next week.

Perth now sit outright third with a 4-2 record and face Townsville and Sydney in their own double header in Round 6. Defensively, they are on song but aside from a nice spread of scorers, they will look to improve their 40% field goal shooting and 47% free throw shooting next weekend.

Perth Wildcats 68 (Beal 14, Muo 11, Daniels 9)

Melbourne United 59 (Kickert 17, McRae 16, Barlow 8)

@ Perth Arena