Perth Wildcats have taken a big step towards winning the inaugural NBL Cup competition with a comfortable 87-70 victory over Illawarra Hawks.
The two-time defending NBL champions played relentless defence at John Cain Arena on Sunday to record their fifth win in six starts and move four points clear of Brisbane on top of the cup table.
The matchup between the teams sitting second and third on the NBL ladder quickly became one-way traffic as Perth held the Hawks to their lowest halftime total of the season on their way to a 53-31 advantage.
“I felt today that we were really good with talking, communicating, getting down in a stance and playing some really good defence,” Trevor Gleeson said after Perth forced 10 turnovers in a dominant first-half display.
“It set the tone to start the game and that kind of carried on throughout the whole game.”
Bryce Cotton scored 18 points for the Wildcats and Todd Blanchfield added 16 while John Mooney completed his eighth double-double of the season, compiling 13 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
The Wildcats face New Zealand and Adelaide in the final week of the competition and remain in the box seat to claim yet another NBL trophy.
Tyler Harvey (17) was the only Hawks player to reach double figures with coach Brian Goorjian left scratching his head after his squad was exposed by Perth’s stifling defence.
“I’m expecting a lot during this process and will take the high and lows … but I had no idea that was going to take place tonight,” Goorjian said.
“I knew after the loss in their last game, (Perth) were going to come after us but I was really excited about the opportunity to showcase the team and show them what we are about.
“At halftime I was dumbfounded.”
Perth showed off their depth of talent in the first quarter with six players each hitting a three-pointer to set up a 28-17 lead.
The Hawks tried to make inroads into Perth’s lead but captain Jesse Wagstaff and Blanchfield combined for a 10-0 Wildcats run to reassert their authority and build a 22-point margin at the main break.
Perth did not let their defensive dominance slip in the third term, holding Illawarra to four made field goals with the lead blowing out to 30 at one stage.
The Wildcats led 74-46 after three quarters but the Hawks stopped them from winning all four thanks to a 13-5 start to the final term.
It was little consolation as the Hawks slipped to a third loss in the last four games.