Basketball: Vukona's three unlikely but effective

By Kris Shannon

It took 181 games for Mika Vukona to accumulate a dozen three-pointers but, after his bravado on Friday night, expect to see a few more. Photo / Getty Images.
It took 181 games for Mika Vukona to accumulate a dozen three-pointers but, after his bravado on Friday night, expect to see a few more. Photo / Getty Images.

It took 181 games for Mika Vukona to accumulate a dozen three-pointers but, after his bravado on Friday night, expect to see a few more.

Vukona was the unlikely hero in the Breakers' fourth straight win, a three-point triumph over a resolute Sydney Kings to remain near the top of the ANBL ladder.

Often the Vukona's contribution to the club can go unnoticed. On this occasion, however, he grabbed the headlines with a last gasp triple from the corner to win a game seemingly destined for overtime.

And, if coach Andrej Lemanis has his way, Vukona will be taking many more attempts from the perimeter.

"We want him to actually take more of them because we see the work that he puts in," Lemanis said. "His form's good and he makes a good percentage when he shoots them at practice. He just needs to believe in it and shoot it."

Usually an impressive orator on any number of topics about the sport, Vukona seemed almost reluctant to discuss his defining shot following the game. He joked about how it felt good leaving his hands, but so did an earlier air-ball.

"I had no other choice but to just put it up," he said. "I had to set a back screen for the guard out there and, with Cedric (Jackson) penetrating all the time, everybody just sucked in."

Lemanis revealed Vukona more than holds his own against the guards in shooting drills at practice, and the player agreed with his coach about increasing his output from deep.

"It's something that Drej said to try to put up when I can, and it worked out for me tonight."

Vukona's improbable role followed a familiar trend of the Breakers receiving contributions across their roster. When someone has an off-night - like Tom Abercrombie's zero-point, one-rebound effort against the Kings - the slack has been picked up by his teammates.

Jackson was electric in the first half on Friday night, managing 16 points and three steals before the break, while Alex Pledger's double-double and Darryl Corletto's 12 points were also invaluable.

"Every week we seem to have different people stepping up and helping us," Lemanis said. "For us still to be able to win without [Abercrombie] giving us what he normally gives us was a good sign.

"Different people carry us at different times. [Against Sydney] Ced really carried us at important moments and he did a great job attacking the zone."

Lemanis thought Jackson's aggression in the lane was the chief reason Vukona was left wide-open to win the game as the clock ticked down. Kings coach Shane Heal confirmed Vukona's shot was one he was satisfied to cede, describing drawing up defences for the Breakers as a pick-your-poison approach.

"We had to try to do a job on their perimeter players - we succeeded at that," Heal said. "We played more one-on-one against their big guys. Pledger did a good job and got on a roll at stages but, obviously, Jackson going to the basket is a tough match-up as well.

"Picking and choosing your defences is a tough one."

That offensive variety has been the key behind the Breakers reaching a 4-1 record without truly firing on all cylinders. If that happens, and if Vukona hits a few more threes, the victories will keep coming.

- APNZ

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