29/05/2024

Melbourne United players celebrate their win on Monday night. (Photo: Melbourne United)

Melbourne United have bounced back in style, notching two wins for the round. Standouts from Xavier Rathan-Mayes, David Okwera, Rayjon Tucker, and the return of Shea Ili played an impact in the home sides victory over the Perth Wildcats on Melbourne Cup eve.

For the first time this season, Melbourne United scored 50 points in a half. They were able to share the scoring load against the Perth Wildcats, notching 14 assists in the first half and finding easy layups to the basket.

United set itself up in the first half, having a 10-point lead at half time.

The Wildcats struggled to get going from the three-point line, limited to two from 14 at 14 per cent in the first half, with Bryce Cotton doing all he could to keep his side in the game.

Melbourne United continued to find their range offensively, continuing their strong work defensively and lifting their intensity, forcing the Wildcats to go for tough shots and halting any momentum.

Speaking to media post-game, United coach Dean Vickerman spoke about the return of Shea Ili and the role he played first game back despite being on restricted minutes.

“One of our struggles this year without him [Shea] was with creation, and [we] saw the effect he had on the game when he put his feet in the paint,” the coach said.

“We’ve been lacking transition points and lacking pace and as a group, I think we can grow in that area and get some cheap points.”

IIi had yet to play a game in NBL23 after a lengthy process to recover from concussion issues.

He spoke about the way he was able to contribute, and getting back to not only full fitness, but full confidence on the night.

“It was an awesome feeling. I couldn’t help the boys out for the first part of the season. It was good to get out there and finally help where I can,” the guard said.

“No concerns. The medical staff did a great job of making sure I was symptom free before I stepped back on the court.”

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It wasn’t just Ili who contributed to the win however, as United managed to spread the load across the whole team, including the bench players.

Vickerman spoke about the roles of the likes of Brad Newley, Lachie Barker and the impact they had on the game.

Newley managed five points and a board in his 16 minutes on court, with a big responsibility on defence. Barker was similar, with three points.

“News was great. That’s two games in a row where he played at the four spot, we were down another big and try him at the four. I thought he defended that position well,” Vickerman said.

“Once we saw an advantage, we started running plays for him to get downhill as well.

“Him and [David] Barlow had a pretty good connection when they are on together as bigs, what they are able to switch and what they’re able to slide through.

“Best game of the year from him. From him coming on for 16 minutes and +21, had a massive impact off the bench.”

Vickerman spoke about the role that Rayjon Tucker played in the side’s victory, as well as the role of David Okwera’s progression.

Tucker didn’t start on the floor, instead scoring 16 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Okwera and Ili made their way into the starting five, with a different looking United.

“The role that Tuck played off the bench, coming in and playing 22 minutes. I’m proud of the way he went about it tonight,” Vickerman said.

“To put him on Bryce Cotton and chase around and do things offensively, go grab rebounds, [it] was a real impactful game from him off the bench.

“When you talk about progression, you talk about trust as a coach. That’s really built over the last little period, where regardless of if the guys are bigger and heavier, I though he [Okwera] handled that well.

“If he’s a bit smaller and a bit quicker, I thought he’s handled that okay.

“At different times, David loves protecting the rim… he’s doing a good job with his ball handling and creating an advantage on the first side. It’s just the growth on him.

“Love his rim protection, he can shoot the basketball, and I think we’ll see more of that as the season goes on.”

Melbourne United will be looking to continue their winning streak, when they face the Cairns Taipans on Friday night and the South East Melbourne Phoenix on Sunday afternoon in Round 6.

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