IT is semi-final time in the Men’s SBL this Saturday night with the Willetton Tigers battling the Perth Redbacks and the Geraldton Buccaneers facing the Joondalup City Wolves in the respective Game 1s to begin the battle for the grand final.
After all four quarter-final series’ in the Men’s SBL went to three games, we are left with the top four teams from the end of the regular season having advanced to the semi finals.
Both Game 1 match ups take place this Saturday night with the Willetton Tigers playing the Perth Redbacks at Willetton Basketball Stadium and the Geraldton Buccaneers facing the Joondalup City Wolves at Active West Stadium.
Both Game 1 Men’s semi-final contests take place on Saturday night starting with the Tigers hosting the Redbacks in what is shaping up as quite the battle.
Willetton is coming of losing in the semi finals last year to the Wolves before adding 2015 league MVP this year Ray Turner and going on to finish on top of the standings at the end of the regular season.
The Tigers then lost Game 1 in the quarter finals to the Perry Lakes Hawks and were on the verge of elimination before Turner nailed a stunning game winner as time expired last Friday night. Willetton backed up that with a win in Game on Saturday night to get back to the semi finals.
Willetton is attempting to make the club’s fifth Men’s SBL grand final and first since 2010 when the Tigers won their first and only championship to date.
The Redbacks, meanwhile, had high hopes coming into 2017 with the arrival of Shawn Redhage and Lee Roberts to a team still including Michael Vigor, Joel Wagner and Ben Smith, and with Marshall Nelson due back from college.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Redbacks with the coming and going of personnel along the way. However things came together in the last couple of rounds of the regular season for them to claim fourth position.
That set up a tantalising quarter-final battle with the South West Slammers and then the Redbacks lost Game 1 at home. But they responded with two wins last weekend in the space of 18 hours to advance to the semi finals.
The Redbacks are attempting to qualify for a first grand final since 1999 and their fifth overall in the Men’s SBL.
The Redbacks and Tigers played out a thriller earlier in the season at Belmont Oasis with Willetton winning on a Jay Bowie buzzer-beater. But then the Redbacks hit back winning at Willetton by nine points in the third last round to get their season back on the rails.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic takes some positive thoughts from the two meetings against the Tigers during the season but knows it’s a whole different ball game with a grand final spot on the line.
“Credit goes to them the first time we played them, they made a play down the stretch off a broken play. But last time our backs were against the wall when we had a double-header against them and the Buccs, we didn’t have perfect preparation with four of our five starters away that whole week of training,” Lackovic said.
“But we were able to come away with a good win but they are an extremely good team from top to bottom. That’s from their coaching to their playing personnel and their discipline and structures. We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for how they play and we understand that to compete well against this team, we are going to have to play and prepare at a really high level.
“We’ll spend this week reviewing a lot of tape, getting together, talking through where we can get a bit of an edge in the series and how to exploit that, and how to minimise their effectiveness.
“They were effectively 1.5 seconds from being eliminated but that just goes to show the resilience they have to get through that and advance. That’s what playoff basketball is about. We’re completely aware that we are through to the second round and that you have to go and take and win a series. Nothing will be handed to you.”
The other semi-final series then begins in Geraldton with the Buccaneers hosting the Wolves at Active West Stadium.
The two teams were locked in a battle for a top two finish for much of the season but in the end the Wolfpack finished second having won its last seven games with the Buccs slipping to third entering the playoffs having won just two of its past seven.
That saw the Buccs enter the quarter finals against the Stirling Senators and winning Game 1 at Warwick Stadium, but then being stunned at home in Game 2 last Saturday night. The Buccs then just managed to prevail in Game 3 also at home last Sunday to advance.
Geraldton is looking to win its way into its first grand final since 2014 and seventh overall. The Buccs have still won just the one championship in 2000.
The Wolves, meanwhile, made a second straight grand final last year before losing to the Cockburn Cougars. They backed up with another strong season this year even if they did start with imports Richard Ross and Wade Guerin, and finished with Ryan Wright.
The Wolfpack then had a grand final rematch with the Cougars in the quarter finals winning Game 1 at home, but then losing Game 2 on the road last Friday. Despite losing captain Seb Salinas, the Wolves responded to win Game 3 last Saturday night and get to another semi-final series.
Joondalup is attempting to farewell its old home this season with another grand final appearance that would give them six overall, and five in the past seven years.
Wolves centre Ryan Wright has enjoyed being part of the SBL in the second part of the season with the big Canadian looking forward to the challenge against the Buccs.
“We are feeling pretty confident about this series. We just know that they are a great team and a really good offensive team with guys who can shoot the ball really well, and they have guys who can play one-on-one really well,” Wright said.
“I think we like our chances because we are kind of getting to be known as a defensive team where we’re holding teams to below their average on the scoreboard. We just want to bring our tough defence and stick to our game plan. If we do that then we like our chances.”
Wright has already had one experience of making the trip to Geraldton back when the Buccs beat the Wolves by 25 points in Week 15. But the Wolfpack did beat the Buccaneers at home in a thriller a month ago.
Wright is taking the positive approach when thinking of the bus trip that awaits.
“It is a tough trip but on the plus side there’s some nice scenery along the way. I saw some pretty cool things with the sand dunes and we stopped at Jurien Bay,” Wright said.
“I’m new to Australia so I guess it was kind of cool to see that stuff and some of the countryside. But it definitely is a tough trip having to drive that far to play, but the good thing is we only have to do it one more time.”
SEMI FINALS GAME 1 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Willetton Tigers v Perth Redbacks – Willetton Basketball Stadium 7pm
Geraldton Buccaneers v Joondalup City Wolves – Active West Stadium 7.30pm
Photo by Belinda Pike (Croc Photography)