THEY might not want to rely on an 18-year-old, but Wani Swaka Lo Buluk showed he could still take Warwick Senators a long way in 2019 after an exciting and dramatic win over Rockingham Flames at Warwick Stadium that included the ejection of a Perth Wildcats captain and championship winner.
It turned out to be quite the dramatic evening to open Round 19 of the Men’s SBL at Warwick Stadium and it always had the potential to go that way considering what was at stake for both clubs heading towards the finals.
Rockingham came into the contest in fourth position and needing to win to stay there while Warwick had slipped to sixth they could still sneak back into the top four by winning their last three remaining games.
Both teams were trying to recapture some of their best form too with Rockingham coming off two double-headers where they beat the Magic and Eagles but lost to the Buccs and Eastern Suns.
Warwick, meanwhile, did beat East Perth by 30 points last week and were looking to try and build on that momentum to try and get back to their form of the first half of the season.
In the end, it turned out to be a night full of frustration and excitement to equal degrees with three tech fouls calls but with Wani Swaka Lo Buluk delivering quite the dazzling display fresh off signing at the Perth Wildcats, the Senators kept their emotions in check better and won 94-85.
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With so much at stake with top four berths potentially on the line, it was always going to be in intense battle to open Round 19 and that’s certainly how it played out.
Brad Robbins picked up two early fouls to set the tone for the evening as the Senators shot out of the blocks to lead 7-2 when Cody Ellis knocked one down from deep.
But it was Wani Swaka Lo Buluk stealing the show as he set up that Ellis three, then got to the rack to convert a three-point play. He continued to push the tempo and with Ellis and Caleb Davis knocking down triples, the Senators recaptured their form from earlier in 2019.
They went on to lead 33-26 by quarter-time including their lead being maintained by triples from Swaka Lo Buluk and Justin King.
The Flames weren’t going away, though, and when Justin Beared hit his second triple of the second quarter, the visitors hit the front with them extending the lead on a Greg Hire and-one play.
Rockingham then finished the first half strongly with five points from Chudier Pal and Jarryd Griffin to head into the half-time break up 55-50.
The Flames then extended their lead to 10 with five Caleb White points to open the second half, but the game would soon take on a totally different trajectory with the Senators and officials equally frustrating Rockingham and taking them off focus for a stretch.
While you could understand their frustration, they did lose focus and that included a tech foul against Ryan Petrik with five minutes remaining which allowed the Senators to draw back level following a 13-3 run.
Robbins then thought he pulled off a clean steal on Swaka Lo Buluk but the referee disagreed calling the foul. Robbins then earned a tech foul and having earlier had a delay of game warning, that made up his second transgression and he was sent packing.
Robbins then seemed another technical too as he departed Warwick Stadium with the game threatening to spiral out of control with frustration levels at an all-time high.
It certainly took Rockingham out of their game and having trailed by 10 to start the third term, Warwick went into three quarter-time leading by five.
The Senators then remained in control through the fourth quarter to score the important 94-85 victory in what was a performance much more reminiscent of their earlier season form.
It improves Warwick to 16-8 on the season with a double-header next week against Mandurah and Geraldton. Rockingham falls to 17-8 with one game to go against Lakeside next Friday.
What a week it was for Wani Swaka Lo Buluk. He made the decision to forego college to sign a full, multi-year contract at the Perth Wildcats and then turned on one hell of a performance as point guard with the Senators on Friday night.
He finished the evening with 28 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals while playing all but 2:30 of the game. He shot 8/16 from the field, 3/6 from three-point range and 9/10 from the foul line.
But it’s more than his numbers. The tempo he plays at, the shots he is able to create for his teammates and the problems his length and athleticism creates for the opposition at both ends is just remarkable.
Plenty of other Warwick players stepped up too with Cody Ellis producing 15 points and seven assists, Rob Anshila 13 points, Justin King 11 points and six rebounds, Ash Litterick eight points and six boards, and Caleb Davis eight points and six rebounds.
Greg Hire again battled manfully for Rockingham with 23 points and 12 rebounds as they continued to be without Josh Ritchart and Luke Travers.
Despite not being 100 per cent himself, Caleb White had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Flames with Justin Beard contributing 17 points, six boards and three assists, and Jarryd Griffin nine points and three rebounds.
It turned out to be a frustrating night for Hire and the Flames. While he and his team might have felt they had reason to be frustrated, he knows they can’t let outside influences distract them to that degree where they go from being in control of a game to letting it slip.
“There was a lot of positives and then there’s the negative where there was a little patch there which completely changed the complexion of the game. We didn’t adjust to it whether it was the referees or the way their style of play is,” Hire said.
“Obviously they came out firing at the start and our guys did a really good job of adjusting, and fighting back so you have to admire that. But it was a two or three-minute patch really where we spent too much emotion and energy worrying about things that we can’t control.
“Unfortunately that changed the outcome of the game. You have to admire the guys for fighting to the end and Caleb was struggling with injury and we still haven’t got our full line-up which we hope doesn’t bite us in the long run.
“But I do feel we took a positive step in our style of play compared to last week. We had a bit more flow going offensively but then in the second half fatigue came into it and it stagnated our offence which is tough when you are trying to play catch up.”
On a more positive note, this weekend the SBL is hosting Mental Health Awareness Round and it’s fair to say that would never take place without the work Hire has done, and continues to do, through Youth Focus and A Stitch in Time.
He couldn’t be prouder to see the basketball community in WA get so well behind the cause of building awareness and making it more acceptable to open up about mental health.
“It’s a huge thing and it’s a discussion we had in the off-season where one of our goals was to bring the captains, coaches and administrators into a room and to allow Chris Harris to talk to them,” Hire said.
“He is an unbelievable advocate with a wealth of knowledge in that mental health space so he got the chance to educate the group and we see in sport all the time, those captains and coaches are not only leaders, but they are admired by their peers and they can accept the responsibility that they can impact so many people’s lives, but save some people as well.
“So that was a goal and now with Mental Health Awareness Round, what I’ve been most proud of is that everyone in the league is embracing it. I’ve reached out to every single player from every single club, and the coaches and referees, to get a few words that we can use through our platform to spread the importance of mental health with their tips and insights around well-being.
“It was unbelievable that I sent out the message and half a dozen responded within an hour, and the rest had by that night. You are surprised by that passion and I know a lot of people are impacted in that space, but until you reach out you don’t know to what degree.
“It’s obviously really encouraging to see what can happen and BWA adopting this round really sees them take the lead in terms of state leagues across the country. It’s definitely something that we are doing and can see the importance of it.”
MEN’S SBL FIXTURES – WEEK 19
Chambers Franklyn Joondalup City Wolves 108 defeated Prestige Honda Cockburn Cougars 73
Willetton Tigers 104 defeated Print Sync South West Slammers 63
Bethanie Warwick Senators 94 defeated Sinclair McDonald’s Rockingham Flames 85
Lakeside Lightning 82 defeated Kalamunda Eastern Suns 80
Texture WA Perth Redbacks v Mandurah Magic – Belmont Oasis 6.00pm
ID Athletic Perry Lakes Hawks v Lakeside Lightning – Bendat Basketball Centre 7.00pm
Print Sync South West Slammers v Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers – Eaton Recreation Centre 7.30pm
Northern Star Resources Goldfields Giants v CMTG East Perth Eagles – Niels Hansen Basketball Stadium 7.30pm
Mandurah Magic v Quadrio Earthmoving Geraldton Buccaneers – Waroona Recreation Centre 12.00pm