Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson saluted his side’s ability to tough it out against Adelaide.Two impressive wins in two weeks has the Perth Wildcats on the verge of cementing their record 32nd-straight finals campaign.
If the Illawarra Hawks cannot win in New Zealand on Sunday, that position could be sewn up by the end of the weekend – regardless of whether the Cats can beat the 36ers in Adelaide on Sunday.
After looking down and out two weeks ago, with consecutive losses to the Sydney Kings, Perth have beaten top-four teams, New Zealand (by 17 points) and Adelaide (by 21).
And while the stats still show that Bryce Cotton continues to score points and Jean-Pierre Tokoto racked up his fourth double-double for the season in the Cats’ 21-point win over the 36ers on Friday night, the emergence of two others has the reigning premiers back in contention for a third consecutive title.
The added scoreboard pressure from Jesse Wagstaff and the power-plays that Derek Cooke Jnr is started to produce, has made a massive difference.
Wagstaff top-scored for the Cats in their 111-90 win over the 36ers with 25 points. His three three-pointers in the second term were crucial.
Cooke’s defence has been spectacular. And after blocking shots at one end, he’s been following up with dunks at the other.
He seems to be reacting well to honest “conversations” that coach Trevor Gleeson is having with him at half-time, because his best is coming out after the main break.
“He responded well,” Gleeson said.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete and he’s quick. But he had a few dunks and he was passing them up.
“Everyone here; 13,000 fans want to see him dunk on people and he has the athletic ability to do it.
“In the second half, he came and played like a man. If he can do that for four quarters, he’ll be a hell of a player.”
“Jesse’s playing great basketball the last month.
“We’re not built with rock stars all over the place; we have to play team basketball to be successful and we’re starting to do that now.”
This season is a bit different to last year for the Cats. Injuries saw them behind the eight-ball and having to win games late in the season to keep their finals streak alive.
They did it and remarkably won the title.
On Friday night, with a top-two finish on the line, they lifted their tempo to the next level again. Adelaide couldn’t go with them.
Coach Gleeson says things are starting to come together for his side.
“It’s playoff basketball,” he said.
“It’s high pressure and high stakes and its whoever cracks first. We certainly stayed there together, which was good.
“The last two weeks we have collectively shown our toughness and showed our defence and we want to keep playing that way.”