Basketball: Wary eye on Hawks import

By Daniel Richardson

Breakers keen to clip wings of Wollongong's talented point guard as must-win clash looms.

Rotnei Clarke is averaging 21.1 points per outing. Photo / Getty Images
Rotnei Clarke is averaging 21.1 points per outing. Photo / Getty Images

Containing the Wollongong Hawks hasn't been a problem for the New Zealand Breakers this season but keeping a lid on the Hawks' best offensive weapon is a concern for the defending NBL champions.

The Breakers host the Hawks on the North Shore in round 15 action tonight and while the Breakers have had the better of their two outings against Wollongong this year, import point guard Rotnei Clarke is someone they will need to keep a close eye on.

Clarke, who is in his first professional gig after an impressive college career in the United States, is averaging 21.1 points per outing - good for third in the league - while he has also nailed the third-most threes in the NBL this season with 51.

In his last game against the Breakers - where New Zealand won 97-89 across the Tasman in round four - the Hawks sharp-shooter drained 36 points in an impressive individual display.

"Clarke causes troubles," Breakers coach Dean Vickerman told the NBL's official website this week.

"His ability to finish in the lane over seven-footers, make flips with his left and right hands, is outstanding.

"There are times where you'll take that kind of shot, but he's making it so regularly you have to make some changes."

It will take a team effort defensively for the Breakers to contain the 24-year-old Clarke and their season is starting to reach the red-zone in terms of needing to string together a run of wins.

Sitting at 6-11 in seventh place on the ladder after a tough 95-73 loss to Perth in Western Australia last week, victory over the 6-10 Hawks, just one rung above them, could be the start of the roll the Breakers need.

The Hawks recently split a game each with the Cairns Taipans, but in round 12 the Gordie McLeod-coached side beat the league-leading Perth Wildcats in overtime in Wollongong.

One potential boost for the Breakers could be the return of Alex Pledger, with the 2.13m centre a chance to come back into the side after recovering from an ankle injury.

If the Tall Black were to return it might be via the bench in a limited minutes capacity, which would help the Breakers at the defensive end.

The Breakers have averaged 94.5 points against the Hawks this season but Vickerman said there were no guarantees tonight.

"There were certainly times in the game we played against them in Wollongong where we had that period and we were fortunate to have people just make plays," Vickerman said.

"For us, the tempo control is very important. We want to speed it up a little bit and play a little faster and hopefully our defence can create some easy baskets for us.

"One thing that was really good for us in those two wins on the road was Mika [Vukona] was pulling down rebounds and busting the ball out himself and really creating opportunities."

- APNZ

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