Vukona wants NZ Breakers to stay desperate
Mika Vukona knows what's coming in Perth next Friday night as the Breakers look to bring out the brooms and complete a sweep of the Australian NBL's grand final series against those bristling Wildcats.
It's why the 29-year-old Tall Blacks power forward is calling on his New Zealand Breakers team-mates to forget about Thursday night's dramatic, thrilling 104-98 overtime victory over the Cats at Vector Arena.
That put the New Zealanders one-up in the best-of-three series and well and truly in the box seat. History says the team with home advantage wins these three-game matchups. It also proclaims that the team that draws first blood goes on to become champions.
But Vukona understands the competitiveness of the Wildcats and the ferocity of their likely response. As much as he welcomes it, he realises that if the Breakers aren't ready they're going to find themselves heading back to Auckland for the decider wondering where their momentum went.
"I think we need to be as desperate as if we'd lost this first game. That's what our mentality has to be, and that suits us," said Vukona who had 14 points, five rebounds and two assists in Thursday's memorable victory in front of the record crowd of 9125. "The Jungle (Perth's Challenge Stadium) is the worst place to go complacent into. These guys are pissed off we won and they're going to come out physical. Even more physical than they normally are, judging by some of the comments made by their players.
"I think we've got to use our smarts and go pretty much basic on these guys, because they're going to throw everything at us in Perth."
Vukona will again be a key figure if the Breakers are to quell the Wildcats' fury. He was huge in overtime on Thursday when he stepped up and strapped his team on his back through the first stages, before cramp cut him down.
"I had to do something... it felt right to me to go at it at that point in time. I guess I hadn't done much up to then. An opportunity arose, and I don't think anything was forced.
"It was just enjoyable man to come out at that time and go for it."
Given Vukona's success in the low post when he demands the ball and uses his mix of strength and speed, there are some who believe he needs to be more assertive for longer periods.
"That's my fault," he says in response. "I've been real tentative. I came in slow into the Crocs (semifinal) series, and it's been great Dillon [Boucher] has been able to step up. Dillon has just turned back the clock and he's been great.
"We talk to each other every day and during the games, and he gives you that confidence... I have to be more aggressive, and I don't know why I don't do it because it's something I enjoy doing when I get in the groove."
Breakers playmaker Cedric Jackson says it's about Vukona picking his moments.
"He's definitely a beast down there. But he picks and chooses when to go and when not to. He's very smart at what he does, and he came through exactly when he needed him. We're confident in what he does because we know when we need him he'll be there."
Vukona admitted to deep satisfaction that the Breakers had been able to prevail without starter Thomas Abercrombie who is a key figure for the Breakers at both ends of the floor.
"We've responded to adversity all year, and whatever's been thrown at us we've done pretty well. We really do believe in everybody in this team and that goes a long way towards dealing with whatever happens on a given night."
The Breakers are hopeful that the eight days between games will enable Abercrombie's injured ankle to heal and the springy forward to take his place in the lineup in Perth.
He will be needed against a Wildcats outfit that Vukona admits have to be respected.
"As much animosity as we have towards them, we also have a lot of respect for them. You see guys of the calibre of Kevin Lisch able to come down, and it doesn't matter how many shots he's had he's always going to come up clutch.
"You've got to have respect for that. That's why when you win against these guys it's so much sweeter."
- © Fairfax NZ News