THE top four Men’s SBL teams of 2017 will become two this weekend with the Perth Redbacks having a chance on Friday to be the first team into the Grand Final against the Willetton Tigers while the Geraldton Buccaneers then have the chance Saturday night over the Joondalup City Wolves.
The top four teams from the end of the regular season all made it through to the semi finals for 2017 even though each of them needed three games in the quarter finals to do so.
Then in the opening games of the semi finals, it was the lower ranked teams who both prevailed setting up a fascinating weekend now to come with the Grand Final spots for 2017 to be determined.
The Perth Redbacks won Game 1 last Saturday night meaning the Willetton Tigers must win Game 2 this Friday night at Belmont Oasis to force the decider back at Willetton Basketball Stadium on Saturday night.
A win for the Redbacks on their home floor on Friday night and they are straight through to a first Grand Final since 1999.
Game 2 of the other series will then take place at Joondalup Basketball Stadium on Saturday night with the Joondalup City Wolves needing to beat the Geraldton Buccaneers.
A Buccs win and they are straight into the Grand Final after their Game 1 victory last Saturday night in Geraldton.
But a Wolfpack win and that sets the stage for Game 3 back on Sunday at Joondalup Basketball Stadium in what is the last weekend of the venue hosting SBL action no matter what.
REDHAGE ENJOYING SBL EXPERIENCE AT REDBACKS MORE THAN HE IMAGINED
ARMOUR STRIVING FOR BOYHOOD DREAM WITH WILLETTON
BRINGING SUCCESS TO PLAYING GROUP, REDBACKS LACKOVIC’S FOCUS
GAME 1 MEN’S SBL SEMI-FINAL RESULTS
Just one of the series will play their Game 2 on Friday night with the Redbacks hosting the Tigers at Belmont Oasis.
Perth did well to set up a handy first half lead last Saturday night at Willetton and then held off a furious finish by the Tigers to prevail 85-81 to put them one win away from a first Grand Final appearance since 1999.
The Tigers were in a similar position in the quarter finals against Perry Lakes and escaped in Game 2 on the road before winning Game 3 at home so they will be confident of doing so again.
With a starting five of Ray Turner, Nic Cody, Jay Bowie, Damien Scott and Kyle Armour, and then Andrew Black, Hayden Noordhoek, Lachie Evans and Michael Collins off the bench, that is a team that would feel disappointed to bow out in the semi finals in two games.
But the Redbacks too have been built for this point of the season in 2017 with the arrival of Shawn Redhage, return of Lee Roberts and retention of Joel Wagner, Michael Vigor and Ben Smith along with the emergence of Zac Gattorna and Marshall Nelson who should return on Friday.
That sets the stage for a fascinating and sure to be hotly contested Game 2 on Friday night with both teams throwing everything at it.
Redbacks coach Nik Lackovic couldn’t have been prouder of his team to win last Saturday night at Willetton, but his focus quickly turned to Game 2 at Belmont.
“All that matters right now before next Friday is how well we prepare physically and mentally, and if we prepare well enough then the reward should take care of itself. The players understand that responsibility and us as coaches understand our responsibility,” Lackovic said.
“All that matters is the 40 minutes that will be played on Friday night and the lead up to that. We will watch a lot of tape and work on some things I felt we could improve in on different areas of the floor, and we’ll certainly look to try and take advantage of the things that worked well for us again.
“But I’m sure Stephen and the whole coaching staff there will be planning on coming in and winning Friday night as well. We are fully aware that this is only one game and whilst it’s important and significant for us as a club and team, what matters now is Game 2.”
Tigers captain Kyle Armour has experienced championship glory before in the SBL at East Perth in 2014 but not at Willetton where he grew up, and where his heart lies.
He is in his third season back with Willetton and would love the chance to get to the Grand Final, but he knows they just need to tidy up a few areas from last Saturday night’s Game 1 loss.
“I think structurally we were fine and offensively we ran the right sets, but unfortunately we had a few fumbles and just didn’t quite finish as well as we have been. Then on the defensive end, they got a lot of easy buckets and they executed their offenses really well,” Armour said.
“They have a talented group so they will find buckets here and there, but if we can be aware of that and hone in on our scouting report I think we’ll be OK as long as we play four quarters of defence.”
The fact that the Tigers bounced back from losing Game 1 to Perry Lakes and were on the brink of elimination of Game 2 but found a way to win and advance gives them the belief they can still win this weekend twice to make the Grand Final as well.
“Losing that Game 1 to Perry Lakes was a bit of a blow and I just don’t think we were up as much as we should have been,” Armour said.
“They came out and were really desperate and we didn’t have that hunger in us, but after Ray hit that buzzer-beater in Game 2 that was a real showstopper and pulled us out of the drain.
“So this isn’t unfamiliar ground for me and for our team and I’m not stressing out and pulling my hair out after losing one game. They call it a series for a reason and all we can control is going into Game 2 with the right mindset and look to execute at Belmont Oasis on Friday night.”
Redbacks star veteran Shawn Redhage knows all about winning and performing in big games as a four-time NBL champion, but he knows nothing is guaranteed for his team just because they won Game 1.
“We have got everyone back on the same page and we have our full team finally together for an extended time. Marshall is coming into his own in the last part of the season and everyone is starting to find their best role on the team,” Redhage said.
“We still have a little bit of work to do and Willetton is a great team and didn’t finish top for no reason so it’s going to be a hard series to try and close out, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Then on Saturday night, all the focus is on Joondalup Basketball Stadium with the Wolfpack desperate to not make it the last ever SBL game in the venue.
The Buccs moved to within one game of the Grand Final with an impressive Game 1 performance at home last Saturday night. The won the game 84-77 in impressive fashion despite having struggled to finish the season and then just getting by the Stirling Senators in three games of the quarter finals.
But with Dwayne Benjamin starring in Game 1 last Saturday night with 34 points and 12 rebounds showing his MVP credentials with support from Mo Barrow (23 points, six boards, four steals), Jackson Hussey (15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) and Aaron Ralph (11 points), they again looked a championship capable line-up.
That puts the pressure back on the Wolfpack who are chasing a third straight Grand Final appearance.
They return to their home floor looking t9 force a Game 3 back in the same building on Sunday that would provide the chance of a fairytale farewell to Joondalup Basketball Stadium if they can qualify for the Grand Final with a win.
But the job is ahead of the Wolfpack and they do need Ryan Wright to come up big, Trian Iliadis and Seb Salinas to catch fire and shoot well, and for Rob Huntington, Reece Maxwell, Rhys Smyth and Ben Ironmonger to strongly contribute.
Veteran Damian Matacz should also return after missing Game 1 in Geraldton.
The stage is set for a cracking Game 2 and then if the weary bodies have to back up on Sunday, everything will be thrown at advancing to the Grand Final six days later by two teams who have appeared title threats since before 2017 even started.
SEMI FINALS GAME 2 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES
Perth Redbacks v Willetton Tigers – Belmont Oasis 7pm (Redbacks lead 1-0)
Joondalup City Wolves v Geraldton Buccaneers – Joondalup Basketball Stadium 7.30pm (Buccs lead 1-0)
SEMI FINALS GAME 3 MEN’S SBL FIXTURES (if required)
Willetton Tigers v Perth Redbacks – Willetton Basketball Stadium 8pm
Joondalup City Wolves v Geraldton Buccaneers – Joondalup Basketball Stadium 12pm
Photo by Sports Imagery Australia