Basketball: One last obstacle for Breakers to overcome

By Kris Shannon

Jermaine Beal drives past Corey Webster. Photo / Getty
Jermaine Beal drives past Corey Webster. Photo / Getty

The first two games of the grand final series were decided by a combined 10 points. Game three may be determined by a much bigger number.

The Breakers and Wildcats, having shared the last six titles, will tomorrow night play off for the Australian NBL crown at Perth Arena, battling not just each other but a brutal travel schedule.

After finishing the regular season in fourth and ceding home advantage to their rivals, the Breakers will be hit hardest by the tight turnaround between games.

The defending champions arrived in Western Australia yesterday having flown more than 16,000km and 22 hours in less than a week, making three trips between the competition's two most isolated outposts.

Given the likelihood of the old foes once again fighting for the championship, the league's decision to stage the three-game grand final series in five days earned the ire of both teams. Television timeslots took preference over player welfare, and the on-court product might suffer as a result.

But even if fatigue were creeping into his legs, Mika Vukona was hardly about to grumble. The Breakers have overcome plenty of adversity this year, including a six-game losing streak that almost sunk their title defence, and the skipper thinks his side have emerged stronger.

"We've really got nothing to complain about," Vukona said. "We've always stuck together through thick and thin, especially through that tough time during the year. That showed a lot of resilience, and that's going to help us going to a third game.

"We know we can weather those storms. That's the great thing about this team. The boys have always had confidence in each other and what we do regardless of what's put in front of us."

Perth coach Trevor Gleeson described the schedule as "unfair" for the players, given such demands are made during the regular season, and Wildcats forward Shawn Redhage struck a similar tone to Vukona.

"Living in Perth - and I'm sure New Zealand's the same - you get used to it," Redhage said. "You know how to get your body right. Winning cures a lot of aches and pains and, with the grand final on the line, there are no excuses."

The visitors certainly struck a lethargic look during Friday night's second game, starting slowly before finding fluency in the second half to set up a dramatic finish. Perth did at least know they possessed a second life, having claimed Wednesday's opener.

Both Cedric Jackson (36:51) and Corey Webster (35:17) were on court almost the entire evening after the key pair endured similar workloads on Wednesday. But considering the tight nature of both contests, Breakers coach Dean Vickerman really had no choice - and no regrets.

"We went over [to Perth] with the plan that, if it went three, we had to give ourselves the best chance," he said after Friday's four-point win. "We'll jump on the plane feeling good about ourselves, knowing we went close last time over there."

"We'll back our strength and conditioning coach. He's done a great job all year of getting us to peak fitness, so we'll go and practice over there and be ready to go."

All that was left to decide, ahead of this morning's flight, was the seating arrangements for the long flight the teams will share. Given the bad blood that exists between these sides, no one wanted any on-court scraps to extend into the aisles.

"We're just like, 'who's going to get the better seat?'" Vickerman laughed. "That's all we're worried about. I'll definitely be down the back somewhere next to the toilet."

- NZ Herald

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