Basketball: Vukona latest Breaker to steal the show

By Kris Shannon

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

It's one of the hallmarks of the Breakers' 12-game winning streak and it's what makes beating the defending champions akin to "getting your powerball number in Lotto".

Just when an opposition side thinks they have the league leaders figured out, just when a clever coach has come up with the perfect gameplan, someone in the New Zealand side will surprise.

It happened in Friday night's win over Wollongong, when one American import (Will Hudson) was missing and the other (Cedric Jackson) was subdued. Mika Vukona decided it would be his night and poured in a career-high 24 points to set the tone early and seal the victory late.

The previous week, it was Jackson's crunch-time heroics against Sydney all but etching his name on the MVP trophy. A fortnight before that, it was Daryl Corletto scoring the first 14 points before returning to kill off the Kings.

With every avenue of attack an Australian club cuts off, the Breakers figure out a varying route towards victory.

For every star who is restrained, a supporting player steps in and steals the show.

"It's good to see the guys stepping up at various times," said coach Andrej Lemanis. "That's our strength - we've got different people who can step in and help, different people who can step in and take over a game at different times and make critical plays."

Lemanis constantly preaches his club is 10-deep and, although the likes of Leon Henry and Corey Webster are rarely seen late in a close contest, just how easily the Breakers coped without Hudson does support his argument.

The back-up centre has been one of their best during the record winning run but, with an MCL tear in his left knee keeping him on the sidelines for at least a month, the Breakers will have to come up with new ways to find a now-familiar result.

That started on Friday night, with Vukona indicating the advice from one the side's leaders left him in attack mode and determined to account for Hudson's absence in the key.

"CJ said to come out aggressive and, I think for the first time, I really listened to him," he joked. "I just took it upon myself and things were just falling for me. Everyone encouraged me to shoot it so that's what I did.

"I just felt it, really."

He was still feeling in late in the fourth, when the Breakers' lead had been trimmed from 15 to just three with 90 seconds left. His offensive board from a Tom Abercrombie miss and subsequent three-point play sealed the game and illustrated, even when they're on the ropes, just how hard it is to knock out the champs.

"[It] would have been a great game to steal," said Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod. "It would've been like getting your powerball number in Lotto.

"[Vukona] is relentless. The amount of possession he gets and the energy he brings - at both ends of the floor. You want those guys on your team because they make everything happen."

- APNZ

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