Rams want to finish well against Southland

BRENDON EGAN
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014
Ethan Rusbatch
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/Fairfax NZ
LAYING UP: Stand-in captain Ethan Rusbatch will be a key man for the Rams against the Sharks.

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The Canterbury Rams will look to finish off their National Basketball League comeback season on a positive note when they face the defending champion Southland Sharks at Cowles Stadium tonight.

Canterbury have been one of the most improved sides in the competition over the back half of the season, winning four of their past six contests.

Their late-season resurgence has been built around their defence with the Rams giving up 89 points per game over that six-game span. They are allowing their opponents to shoot just 42 per cent from the floor - an impressive statistic given the way they were leaking points earlier in their campaign.

If Canterbury are to upset the Sharks, who have already sealed their place in next weekend's Final Four playoffs, they will have to do so without their starting backcourt.

American shooting guard Glen Dandridge will miss his fifth consecutive game due to an elbow injury. Skipper Jeremy Kench is also sidelined after visiting a specialist this week about his broken nose, which he sustained in a recent game against Waikato.

Ethan Rusbatch, who hit the game-winning three point basket in last week's overtime win over Otago, will captain the Rams in Kench's absence.

Marty Davison and Inga Solofuti will continue to start for the Rams.

Marcel Jones returns after missing the Otago game due to a one-game suspension after he was ejected late in last Friday's loss to Southland in Invercargill.

Rams coach Dave Harrison said tonight's game was the perfect chance to show how much the team had grown since the beginning of the year.

He believed his side had become one of the best defensive sides in the league over the final part of the season.

Beating Southland would also be a fitting way to reward the home fans, who have packed out Cowles in 2014.

"What better way to challenge yourself against the defending champions and a top four side," Harrison said.

"The last third of the season has been about showing we can compete in this league. To knock off a top four team, we would feel in our minds that we do have that ability."

Southland crushed Canterbury 108-83 in their previous clash after the Rams fell behind 35-14 after the first quarter.

The Sharks punished Canterbury with points in transition and second chance baskets through their offensive rebounding.

American imports Kevin Braswell and Brian Conklin are integral to Southland's fortunes, but Canterbury will need to shut down Luke Martin and Tai Wesley, who have been standouts for the undermanned Sharks. Wesley was outstanding against the Rams last time with 22 points and 17 rebounds.

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