21/02/2024

Jo Lual-Acuil amassed seven blocks in the Throwdown win (Photo: Melbourne United/Provided by Melbourne United)

Melbourne United hosted a block party on Thursday night in their 106-78 victory over South East Melbourne Phoenix in Throwdown XXIII. 

Led by Jo Lual-Acuil Jr who had seven blocks himself, the ladder-leaders denied 12 shots, 10 more than their crosstown rivals. 

United were able to lock down their defensive interior, as the Phoenix went 19 of 52 (36.5 percent) inside the paint. 

The emphatic display on the defensive front was requested by coach Dean Vickerman. Vickerman challenged the big man to guard the basket better after some missed opportunities against Brisbane, and the coach said he delivered in spades.

“We watched some clips from the Brisbane game, and I thought there was a couple more where he could have really protected the rim with,” he said.

“He’s always to me ‘just tell me what you want me to do’ and tonight we were like ‘let’s protect the rim a little better’ and he was magnificent.

“Not only [did he] protect the rim on people coming down at him, but also with the chase down blocks on people going for layups and the commitment that he made to challenge those was outstanding.”   

Although Lual-Acuil Jr was statistically credited for the blocks, his believes his job was made easier by strong defensive performance collectively.

“It’s what our defence is built on. Having guys like [Shea Ili], just dog guys who push them down [allows us to] contest [shots],” he said.

“I just try to be in the right spots and wall up and more often than not, they throw the ball into my hands.”

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Combining with NBL Next Star Ariel Hukporti, the duo amassed 10 blocks between them for the night. When the game was out of reach, Vickerman saw it as an opportunity to get the pair playing together, something which has been restricted this season.

“We still haven’t got the reps into them at practice that we need … so it was a good opportunity to do it,” he said.

“We got three minutes of them playing together and thought we were able to shrink the floor and look pretty dominant rebounding.

“It’s something that we certainly want to get more reps into.” 

The opportunity could present itself again tonight against the Adelaide 36ers who sit on the bottom of the NBL ladder, with a record of 4-10. Vickerman however is expecting the unexpected.

“It’s a little tricky [to assess the side]. I was looking at the last time we played them which was a long time ago and it’s like the world has changed from then,” he said.

“Scotty (Ninnis) has now had another week to prepare so we’ve just got to be ready for anything. We saw mixes of zone the other night, them trying to play a little bit faster, different line-ups that we’ve seen in the season.

“They could throw anything at us, but this game gives us good confidence to say whatever was thrown at us, we handled it pretty well.”

Melbourne United will face the Adelaide 36ers at John Cain Arena tonight at 8pm AEDT.  

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