Basketball: Breakers dealt deadly blow

A strong opening quarter from Mika Vukona pulled the Breakers back into the game against the Hawks. Photo / Getty
A strong opening quarter from Mika Vukona pulled the Breakers back into the game against the Hawks. Photo / Getty

Hawks 88
Breakers 68

Another finger has been pried loose from the Breakers' once-firm grip on the Australian NBL trophy - and now they're hanging on by a thread.

The three-time defending champions went down by 20 against the Wollongong Hawks tonight, dropping their record to 9-13 and leaving their playoff hopes almost extinguished.

But the Breakers have no time to dwell on the defeat, travelling to Adelaide on Sunday for what is now a game of the utmost importance. A loss to the second-placed 36ers will all but conclude the Breakers' campaign, while a win would still leave them needing a helping hand.

Even if the Breakers take five of their remaining six games, they will still need three teams to beat Sydney, starting when the Kings visit last-placed Townsville tomorrow.

Their reliance on other teams was a result of an untimely power outage at the WIN Entertainment Centre, with the Breakers hamstrung by fouls and unable to recover from an awful offensive first half.

The Breakers had won all three meetings with the Hawks heading into their final clash of the season, while the two teams both cracked three figures last time they played. Neither of those trends threatened to continue as the Breakers' away record fell to 3-9.

Wollongong rode to the win on the back of a 28-17 advantage in free-throw attempts, built after the Breakers repeatedly fell into the bonus in every quarter. Kerron Johnson was the first to foul out for the visitors, ended a poor night personally, while Mika Vukona and Tom Abercrombie soon followed the point guard to the bench.

Vukona was once again the best of the Breakers, grabbing another double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds during his time in the floor. Corey Webster had 11 points and Gary Wilkinson grabbed 10 boards but little else went right for the Kiwi club.

The signs were ominous early as the Breakers departed from their free-scoring ways of recent weeks but, thankfully for the champs' chances, the Hawks weren't much better.

The Breakers came into the contest averaging more than 100 points from their previous four games, but both sides shot worse than 40 per cent from the floor in an anaemic first half.

Wollongong looked early like they would be more prolific, jumping out to an 8-0 lead before Vickerman called a timeout to stem the flow. And that move seemed to pay dividends as the Breakers ended the opening quarter down by three, thanks in large to six points and six rebounds from Vukona.

The two teams' offences seem to get worse in the second quarter and, with the three-ball sorely lacking, the result was in the balance as the home side took a five-point lead into the major break.

That advantage was quickly doubled as the Breakers were held scoreless in the opening couple of minutes in the third. Being bossed on the boards and ceding a too many free throws, they were actually doing well to avoid being blown out.

The deficit was at single figures heading into the fourth, but the Breakers' comeback attempt stuttered as the champs failed to chip away at Wollongong's lead.

After pulling within two possessions midway through the period, things quickly turned sour as Rotnei Clarke followed his 39 from last week to end with 28 and ensure the final margin matched the Breakers' malaise.

Hawks 88 (Clarke 28, Forman 13, Davidson 10)
Breakers 68 (Vukona 13, Webster 11, Corletto 9)
HT: 35-30

- APNZ

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