Basketball: Vukona makes it even dozen

By Kris Shannon

Mika Vukona. Photo / Getty Images.
Mika Vukona. Photo / Getty Images.

Breakers 92
Wollongong 84

If the Breakers have shown one thing during their recent winning streak it is their resilience in the face of adversity.

That continued at the North Shore Events Centre tonight, with the Mika Vukona-inspired defending champions overcoming the Wollongong Hawks to make it a dozen straight wins.

During the last two months, the Breakers (20-3) have faced seemingly insurmountable deficits, rampant rivals and questionable officiating - but the end result is always the same.

And so it was tonight, with an undersized frontline crushing the Hawks in the rebounding battle despite having only a few days to prepare for life without Will Hudson.

The American has been one of the Breakers' best during their winning run and, with Alex Pledger still feeling an ankle injury, he has even been starting at centre. But with a tear in his left MCL sidelining him for at least a month, the Breakers were forced to adapt and they did so with aplomb.

Vukona more than made up for the absence of his teammate, starting fast and finishing when his team needed him most to tie a career high with 24 points.

His efforts helped his side maintain their lead over Perth atop the Australian NBL standings, and leave them well-placed for a third straight minor premiership heading into their final five games.

Their next contest, lucky No 13, will not be for two weeks, and the extended lay-off will be yet another challenge for the Breakers to face. But, judging by their red-hot form, the Breakers will manage just fine and will prevail despite the momentum-halting break.

They did tonight after charging out of the blocks to score the game's first 10 points, with their fast start epitomised by Vukona. Hudson's knee injury, was a blow for the Breakers but it did create more opportunities for the likes of Vukona and Dillon Boucher to go to work under the rim.

Pledger played the first six minutes and was the last of the starters to earn a break, but Vukona ensured Hudson's absence didn't hurt the team's interior. The Tall Blacks captain scored a game-high nine points in the opening exchanges to help the Breakers to a 26-14 lead at the opening break.

Wollongong lead the league in looking after the ball, but when they play the Breakers their handling becomes a little less assured. Having committed 33 turnovers in their last meetings with the Breakers - well above their average of 11 a game - the Hawks had similar struggles in the second period.

Midway through the quarter they had already ceded possession 11 times and the Breakers capitalised on those errors to lead by as many as 17. But Wollongong took much better care of the ball as the quarter wore on, and they reduced the deficit to 11 at the major break.

The Hawks were actually shooting the ball a lot better than their opponents, and that continued to start the second half. Oscar Forman, in particular, was enjoying success against his former team, with 13 points in the opening five minutes of the period helping to trim to gap to single figures.

But the Breakers haven't embarked on a record winning streak by being easily rattled, and they responded with a 9-0 run to demoralise the Hawks and boost their buffer back to 13 heading into the final quarter.

Tom Abercrombie led the way for the home side, scoring 15 points in the quarter after being held to just two in the first half. The Breakers' accomplishments in this campaign are remarkable when considering Abercrombie was yet to contribute in a manner similar to last season and, if he rediscovers top form in time for the playoffs, his side will be near unbeatable.

They have been for the last two months and they were again tonight, though the Hawks had something to say about that in the closing minutes. A 10-2 run saw them pull within three but, appropriately, a huge three-point play by Vukona all but sealed it.

Breakers 92 (Vukona 24, Abercrombie 17, Pledger 13)

Wollongong 84 (Deleon 33, Forman 21, Gruber 10)

- APNZ

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