Wollongong Hawks 80
NZ Breakers 64
The Breakers' bogey team struck again tonight as the first place New Zealanders dropped their first game of 2012 to the lowly Wollongong Hawks.
The 80-64 loss was the Breakers' 12th in 15 games at the Sandpit, and saw the defending Australian NBL champions unable to capitalise on second-placed Perth's loss last night. The Breakers (15-6) still hold a one-game lead over the side most are tipping them to face in the finals, but that gap would have doubled if they had dealt to the 6-14 Hawks.
You would expect a team of the Breakers' calibre to barely break a sweat in dispatching an eight-placed side which lost their last game by 41 points, but Wollongong is no ordinary eighth-placed side. The Hawks lead the all-time series 19-10 and they handed the Breakers their only home loss this season in November.
So while Wollongong may have won just two games at home all season prior to this clash, it was no sure thing for the Breakers in spite of their hot form of late which has brought five straight victories.
With the Breakers' offence being continually disrupted and former Breaker Oscar Forman putting on a spectacular display of shooting, the game was looking about as far from a sure thing as possible at halftime. And so it transpired in the second spell, as the Hawks kept their opponents at arm's length and the Breakers never seriously threatened a comeback.
The Breakers will want to banish this one from the memories as soon as possible, especially considering the identity of their opponents at the North Shore Events Centre on Thursday. Wollongong is coming to town as the run to the playoffs begins, and a repeat of last night's result would bring the leaders back to the chasing pack with six games to follow.
The Breakers came out noticeably flat in the first quarter, as if they had forgotten how to play away after spending a month on this side of the Tasman. The North Shore club shot only 33 per cent from the field in the first quarter, their poor play epitomised by Cedric Jackson allowing the shot clock to run out on the Breakers' last possession of the period.
The Hawks went on a 10-0 run either side of the first break, keeping their opponents scoreless for almost seven minutes to maintain a handy buffer over the Breakers for the entirety of the second quarter.
After committing 10 of their own the Breakers finally forced a turnover late in the half, and that disparity was reflected in the 42-32 halftime scoreline. Wollongong's 10-point lead also had a lot to do with Forman, who haunted his old club in the first half to the tune of 21 points including a perfect five-of-five from deep.
The Breakers' cut that deficit to five midway through the third quarter on the back of an 8-0 run, but that was as close as they got. Uncharacteristically sloppy play, with both Jackson and Tom Abercrombie being called for travelling, saw the Hawks re-establish their dominance and take an eight-point lead to the final break.
That gap remained for the fourth quarter as Wollongong, led by Forman's 31 points, closed out the game with ease to continue their domination of the defending champions.
Wollongong 80 (Forman 31, Catron 15, Ubaka 10)
Breakers 64 (Wilkinson 16, Abercrombie 12, Jackson 12)