Mika Vukona ready to be 'beast' for Breakers
Last week Mika Vukona simply strapped the Breakers on his broad shoulders and got on with it. As he does.
Tonight in Perth, the inspirational power forward is going to need some help if the for the threepeat Australian NBL champions are to extend their win streak to three games.
Knocking off a wobbly Melbourne side at home on the back of 14 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists from Vukona is one thing. But toppling an in-form Wildcats side at a packed Perth Arena is most definitely something else altogether.
The 4-6 Breakers are going to have to play very, very well indeed tonight (11.30pm tipoff, NZ time) to have any hope of edging closer to the .500 mark in the first leg of a weekend road double. The Cats have lost just one of 11 games this season and are a perfect 5-0 at home - two of those victories by 40 or more.
The Breakers have proven they can win in Perth - they've done so three times over the previous three seasons - but they've also suffered some fearful hidings there. It's a place where things can unravel quickly if you don't bring your A game.
The Breakers haven't brought their A game at all this season, but there have been signs of it being formulated over back-to-back home wins over Townsville (81-74) and Melbourne (84-74). Defence, especially, has been sharper.
Vukona in "beast" mode last week helped a lot and the Tall Blacks skipper said he's comfortable strapping his team on his shoulders if that's what it takes.
"I'm cool with that," smiled the man who's hoovered up 29 rebounds over the last two games. "Everybody is stepping up. Tommy [Abercrombie] had a great fourth quarter [against the Tigers]. He's saying 'I want to be the guy to close out games' and he's doing that for us."
Vukona shrugged off his heroics last week as "one of those games" but admits he's developed a more aggressive mindset this season when things are rolling for him.
He says the whole team will need that in Perth tonight, and then Melbourne on Sunday in what will be an exacting second leg.
"In Perth it turns pretty ugly pretty quick, and the guys are really wary of that. But we've put ourselves in this little hole and any loss is a bad loss for us right now. So we've got to make sure we get the job done, and come away with two wins."
Two wins? That's ambitious. That's also Vukona.
To get the result tonight, says Vukona, it's about defence and rebounding. They've got to "contain" the dangerous James Ennis, the MVP-designate, and not leave Shawn Redhage and Jesse Wagstaff so open from deep (as they did in a 96-89 home defeat in October).
"And we've got to smash them on the boards," added Vukona, who will give that task his best shot. "But they're 10-1 for a reason - we've got to do our homework on everybody and make sure we can contain all of them."
They also need imports Kerron Johnson and Gary Wilkinson to take more defining toles, they need CJ Bruton to step it up as his 500th NBL game looms Sunday and for Abercrombie to expand his periods of dominance beyond the fourth quarter.
Asked what he'd tell his team-mates in Perth, Vukona smiled: "I'll let CJ do all that, I'd rather lead by my actions. It's not about holding anybody's hands, it's just saying we all know what we need do out there. That doesn't just come from me or CJ or Daryl [Corletto], it has to come from Reuben [Te Rangi] and Corey [Webster] and all those guys because the whole team is going to get us across the line."