Cats hold the cards come playoffs

By Kris Shannon

Mika Vukona, Leon Henry and Tom Abercrombie of the Breakers contest arebound against Jesse Wagstaff and Cameron Tovey of the Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images.
Mika Vukona, Leon Henry and Tom Abercrombie of the Breakers contest arebound against Jesse Wagstaff and Cameron Tovey of the Wildcats. Photo / Getty Images.

It seems implausible after winning 16 straight games and romping to their best ever record, but the defending champion Breakers could now be considered underdogs to take a third title.

Friday night's flat performance in Perth changed nothing about the playoff picture but, if the two sides do what most expect and set up a grand final rematch, the Wildcats will be confident of continuing this season's domination of the Breakers.

Perth's 73-58 victory in front of 12,000 fans in the wild west drew the curtain on both the regular season and the Breakers' record winning streak. The Breakers, who finished 24-4, will begin their title defence on Thursday night at Vector Arena, probably against Sydney or Melbourne, while Perth will likely play Wollongong at home on the same evening.

Many pundits expect the semifinal series to be a mere precursor to another titanic battle between the old rivals in the grand final and, if that proves the case, it may pay for the Breakers to play with a very short memory.

Perth handed the New Zealand side three of their four defeats this season but it was the manner of those defeats which was especially surprising. The Breakers were dismantled by a combined 61 points in the three losses and, while their own victory over Perth came by 17, that is a commanding record for the Western Australians.

Those numbers, of course, will be ancient history when it comes to a season-deciding three-game series - and the Breakers will have home-court advantage by virute of the minor premiership - but the manner of the Breakers' performance last night could be more pertinent.

Perth scored the first 11 points and went about dominating the effort areas in which the Kiwi team usually pride themselves. Perth won the rebounding battle, had double the number of steals and forced almost twice as many turnovers from their opponents.

"We just got out-worked and out-hustled," said Corey Webster, who led the Breakers with 18 points. "They brought the energy and we just didn't match it.

"Everyone was just a bit flat. We can't blame it on the travel or anything because we need to get up for those games. I can't really put my finger on it."

Webster insisted, should they again meet Perth, the wounds the Breakers have suffered at the hands of the Wildcats would quickly be forgotten. What they will have to remember is to take better care of the ball and keep Perth off the offensive glass.

"The playoffs are a new season and there is no favourites. Whoever brings that energy and effort on the day is going to win."

While disappointed the club-record 16-game streak of victories came to a close, Webster admitted to having mixed emotions about the defeat.

"We would have loved to have kept that streak going but, in a way, it could have been a good loss for us. We might have needed that just for a little kick up the butt.

"The real season starts now."

- APNZ

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