Depth the key for a United side ahead of a Friday blockbuster

Melbourne United proved too good for Cairns last night, winning 101-76 (Photo - NBL)

It may not have been the biggest match that Melbourne United will play this week, but they did their chances of finishing the NBL season in top spot no harm with a solid 101-76 win over the bottom-placed Cairns Taipans.

The Monday night win was in front of no crowd at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena due to Victoria’s COVID lockdown, but it didn’t stop United from getting to work early to dismantle Cairns’ zone defence.

Coming off a stirring win over the South East Melbourne Phoenix last Friday, the Taipans were blown away from the outset, as a string of fast-moving passing plays quickly got United firing on the offensive end.

“We knew we would see the zone fairly early, so we thought if we could punch it inside it would create some good offence for us,” United coach Dean Vickerman said post-match.

“We haven’t faced that much zone, so we set that as a bit of a challenge, to not run too many set plays and to use good ball movement and passing in our offence.”

“I think Mason (Peatling) and different guys at the high post made good decisions for us, which opened up the three.”

Peatling was a stand-out for United, as the emerging forward broke out to register his first NBL career double-double with 12 points at 66 percent shooting and 11 rebounds.

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With Jock Landale (19 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks) dominating in the paint, Melbourne soon grabbed the advantage on the rebounds, as their defence remained solid despite allowing Cairns to sneak back into the contest in the second quarter.

But the main talking point going forward for United was their spread of contributions across the roster, with David Barlow (16 points, including four three-pointers at 100 percent shooting), Jo Lual-Acuil (10 points, six rebounds, and two assists), and Scotty Hopson (18 points and five assists) all relished increased minutes off the bench.

With guard Yudai Baba once again benched with a knee injury, Hopson and Barlow were the greatest beneficiaries, shooting incredibly well from the field to prove their importance to the United roster.

Bench player Scott Hopson is critical to United’s championship chances (Photo – NBL)

“I’m feeling good, finding some rhythm in my role and I’m being confident,” Hopson said on a night where he went 7 from 10 with his shooting, including a purple patch in the final seconds of the third quarter.

“When I play I’m just trying to play my way and light it up.”

United’s deep team is the envy of other teams, as the recently-axed Cairns coach Mike Kelly admitted his side was “blown away” by the depth Melbourne displayed in the 25-point win.

Dean Vickerman and his side will need all of the talent at their disposal to come Friday night when Melbourne travels to a fully-packed RAC Arena to take on the Perth Wildcats for top spot. Only a game ahead of the Wildcats, Vickerman is hopeful his side can produce great offence once again to solidify their home court advantage ahead of the upcoming playoffs.

“They’ve shown how good they are defensively all year – they’ll still be one of the best two defensive teams,” he said.

“If the ball pops like it did tonight and last time we were there, then we give ourselves a good chance.”

The United-Wildcats clash tips off at 9.30PM AEST and will be available to watch live on SBS Viceland.

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