Vukona: time for Breakers to step it up
Mika Vukona says it's time for the Breakers to flick the switch and take their pursuit of an Australian NBL title threepeat up a level.
Vukona admits he's frustrated by the way the team is playing, even though they have now won six straight after Thursday night's 72-71 nailbiter at the NSEC over the under-manned Wollongong Hawks.
Clearly the Tall Blacks skipper and hard-nosed power forward is a tough taskmaster, with the 14-3 Breakers remaining the team everyone else is chasing in this league as they step out in Adelaide today for the second half of a tough home-away double-header.
But he said he had been disappointed by the nature of the victory over a Hawks side stripped of its starting backcourt by season-ending injuries. The Breakers shot just 36 percent from the floor and needed a 20-5 offensive rebounding edge to eke out a victory that went down to the final seconds.
"Believe it or not it is frustrating," said Vukona before yesterday's early-morning flight across the Tasman. "Thursday night was the first time I really felt like that. It felt good to get the win but at the same time just the way we went about it was a bit disappointing.
"Everybody is still positive, but we have high standards at this club and the way we went about the win, we grinded it out.
"It's a good sign when you can win ugly like that, but I really want us to start winning nice, start stringing things together offensively.
"Tom [Abercrombie] is coming right, Alex [Pledger] got over a mental hurdle the way he came back after that ankle injury... they're good signs. But you want to get up and play at a level you know you can."
Vukona understands the Breakers are going to have to "flick the switch" some time between now and the playoffs, and he'd rather it was sooner than later.
Today in Adelaide might be a big ask. The Breakers looked tired against the Hawks, and had just a recovery day on Friday before they had to fly back across the Tasman for their fifth game there in the last six.
Vukona says a lot of work has gone into the way the Breakers approach away games. Over the last four years they have the best road record in the league, and that's no fluke.
"We try to get all the little things right because all the little things count," said Vukona. "If that's getting exit rows with leg room, if that's getting there in enough time so you're not adjusting time zones, then things like that all do help.
"But it comes down to every individual getting their part of the equation right. Because of the culture the club has created it's allowed new guys to come in and see this is the way things work, and there's a standard and nobody slips below that."
The Breakers are 7-2 on the road this season and have won their last four on the bounce over the holiday period. But Vukona is expecting a pretty torrid challenge from a Sixers outfit still smarting after giving up a 21-point halftime advantage against the Kiwi club in their round 12 clash in Adelaide.
"After watching that game [against the Hawks] Adelaide will think they have a very good chance," said Vukona. "They should have had us last time, and they're a dangerous team -- on paper, one of the best in the league.
"If we continue to execute our game, and become more fluid in our game, offensively and defensively, we'll be all right."
Vukona is asked, with the Perth Wildcats still breathing down their necks, whether it's time to make a statement. A smile crosses his face.
"We've been making statements all year as we keep setting new goals for ourselves. It's not a statement to the league we need to make, it's a statement to ourselves.
"We need to understand it's going to be hard in the playoffs this year, that everybody is going to be gunning for us. Perth keep on winning, and they've got a great stretch at home. So we've just got to continue to get these Ws."
The dub-yas are what it's all about. Even if Vukona wouldn't mind a little style to go with them.
Who is the most important player for the Tall Blacks at the World Cup?