PERTH - Trevor Gleeson aptly summed the Perth Wildcats’ opening win up against Melbourne United on Saturday night.
“It wasn’t pretty, was it?” Gleeson pondered, when addressing the media postgame.
For this Wildcats team, the events that led to their first up win will never be confused with the most aesthetically pleasing basketball the defensive champions are capable of. A late finishing kick --fuelled by two jaw-dropping threes from Terrico White-- allowed the Wildcats to escape with a 94-93 victory over a gallant United team. White’s timely shotmaking, coupled with some precise playmaking from Nick Kay, are undoubtedly positives for Perth fans. They are the last memories for a resourceful victory but they shield what was, for large stretches, an underwhelming performance .
The final moments will steal headlines, as they ultimately characterise the 1-0 start Perth now enjoys, but there remains plenty for Gleeson and his charges to work on. An undermanned United squad jumped Perth. They played with more focus, more intensity, and built a lead that threatened to balloon during the ten minutes of basketball that bracketed half time.
The Wildcats woes started with that familiar bugaboo that drives coaches crazy: defence. Their defensive intensity was lacking in the first half. In truth, it was non-existent for the opening 20 minutes of basketball. United shot 71% from the field and tallied 54 points, with little resistance from their hosts.
“We were really on the back foot,” Gleeson explained of the Wildcats' defence early. “They got into the game and were really comfortable. In the first quarter, they were getting any scores they wanted, things like layups, and they were playing free with all their injuries. Shots were dropping everywhere and he had to do something to get energy on the defensive end.”
Melbourne’s offensive explosion built from clean threes, uncontested jump shots and open layups; a confounding development given their offensive maven, Chris Goulding, was held out with ankle soreness. A United team devoid of their best player was running up and down RAC Arena as they pleased.
“They were shooting 71% from the field and sometimes you need to have that grit and determination,” Gleeson added on his team’s defensive mindset. “Sometimes you need to will yourself to win.”
Perth found their desire in the second half. They morphed back into the synchronised team that shut down United during the NBL Finals in March, restricting their opponents to just 39 points after the main break. There were a handful of tactical adjustments - most noticeable was Perth’s desire to trap United ball handlers further up the court - but the Wildcats' turnaround was built on the grit Gleeson applauded postgame.
“They did a good job of pressuring us up the floor in the second half,” said Melbourne head coach Dean Vickerman. “We had some turnovers, a lot more turnovers in the second half, that resulted in cheap points for them. We must clean up how we attack pressure and clean up how we get to our main targets.”
Bryce Cotton led the Wildcats with 21 points; White added 20 points and Kay collected 18 points and seven assists. These three combined to keep the Wildcats' offence going throughout and they were instrumental in the decisive 12-5 run Perth leveraged over the final four minutes of the game.
“Terrico hit those big buckets in the fourth quarter to get us back in there. When we started moving the ball and getting some pace in the game, we looked really good. It just took a while for us to get there."
It didn’t come easy, and it took until the final moments, but the Wildcats did as they have long done, and that is win.