24/05/2024

Jordan Usher scored eight points in the final four minutes of regulation (Photo: nbl.com.au)

The Perth Wildcats have broken Melbourne United’s six-game winning streak with a 102-95 win in overtime on Monday night.

A victory marred by an overabundance of fouls called, controversy riddled the final stages of what was a match for the ages. 61 fouls were awarded throughout the match – the most in a round where the spotlight has shined on the number of calls made.   

It was also a torrid night for the ladder-leaders on the injury front, as three of their starters had their concerns. However, stellar performances from Matthew Dellavedova and Jo Lual-Acuil Jr off the bench kept them in touch. In his return game, Dellavedova got a reverse layup to fall to tie the scores with 1.8 seconds remaining, eventually forcing overtime, but it was the Wildcats who steadied in the extra period.  

Melbourne United could not have asked for a worse possible start. Luke Travers was ruled out in the first minute of the game, after some friendly fire with teammate Ariel Hukporti resulted in a concussion for the former Wildcat. In an incident that saw Travers slip up and run into Hukporti’s knee, both players spent time in the hands of medical staff with Hukporti playing restricted minutes. 

The injury concerns only heightened for the home side as sharpshooter Ian Clark had a line drawn through his name after quarter-time. Clark caught fire in the opening quarter shooting a perfect 3/3 from behind the arc, however hamstring tightness would end his game prematurely. 

Despite players falling around them, it was the bench who stood up for Melbourne. Lual-Acuil Jr and Dellavedova were the best two players for the home side scoring 25 and 23 points respectively. However, Kyle Bowen was the most impressive of the lot, amassing 16 rebounds in his cameo.  

These efforts helped United hold onto the lead for the most of the first three quarters. When Dellavedova hit a straight-on three with 4:38 to go in the last, it became increasingly likely that a depleted Melbourne outfit would hold on to win their seventh-straight match. 

However, a four-point play in unconventional circumstances saw the Wildcats level the scores with 82 seconds remaining. Although Alexandre Sarr scored on a tip-in, a foul was paid against Chris Goulding off the ball, giving Kristian Doolittle an extra two free throws. 

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After Dellavedova only made one of his two free throws down the other end, Jordan Usher silenced the Melbourne crowd with what seemed to be the dagger when he hit a step-back three. 

The clock read 5.1 when Lual-Acuil Jr inbounded the ball to Dellavedova. Tucked in the corner, Delly found his way to the bucket to level the game again. 

Usher was awarded two free throws on the inbound after receiving contact from his fellow number eight. He might have silenced the crowd five seconds earlier, but the crowd silenced him this time around. The forward would go on to miss both free throws, something that Melbourne United coach, Dean Vickerman, credited his fans for.  

“[The crowd] had an impact on Usher missing his free throws,” he said.

“That’s what a home crowd should do. They’re giving you energy when you need it, they’re celebrating the success that’s happening on the floor but they’re also making it difficult for the opposition at the other end.

“I thought they were fantastic today.”

Perth would eventually prove too strong, winning their second match of the round by seven points. Doolittle was the pick of the bunch for the visitors with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists, while Bryce Cotton (24 points, six rebounds) and Sarr (17 point, six rebounds) were critical in securing the victory. 

Perth Wildcats coach, John Rillie, said it was about “winning ugly”, something they were unable to do earlier in the season.

“Very good win in the fact that we found a way,” he said.

“We weren’t doing that with the competitive spirit that we’ve shown in the last couple of games in the early stages of the season, but over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been progressing really nicely and now we’re seeing the results on the scoreboard.” 

As for Melbourne United, Vickerman said he is set to seek clarification on some foul calls late but admitted they failed to capitalise on their chances when the game was on the line.

“There’s a couple of things I need absolute clarity on because I thought there were some plays in the game where I thought there was some heavy contact and different things that I didn’t think got reviewed,” he said.

“We had opportunities to execute better at different times and we didn’t make plays well enough down the stretch.”  

United maintain their position on top of the ladder, but face a tough fortnight with matches against South East Melbourne Phoenix and the Sydney Kings awaiting them. As for the Wildcats, they will look to make it three in a row when they take on New Zealand on Friday night.  

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