Wilkinson wows for Breakers in Sydney victory
Adversity does different things to different people. For Breakers import Gary Wilkinson it's fair to say it brings the best out in a guy who loves a challenge.
Wilkinson demonstrated that yesterday as the 2.08m American responded to a demanding situation with a game-winning turn in a massive 99-83 victory over the Sydney Kings.
With starting centre Alex Pledger out with an ankle injury and the squad's only other player over 2.0m, youngster Jack Salt, unable to travel because of NCAA restrictions, the 31-year-old Utah native was always going to carry a massive load in yesterday's must-win Aussie NBL clash in Sydney.
He did not blink, pouring in a game-high 31 points on 12-of-21 shooting. Big Red knocked down three (of eight) triples and added six rebounds in a superb all-round display that eventually wore down a Kings outfit who faded badly in the run home.
''Everyone knows Gary and what he brings to the team,'' said Breakers assistant coach Paul Henare last night.
''He's a guy who doesn't shy away from challenges or opportunities.
''He loves being on the road and loves being under pressure. He really relishes that, and he showed his class with his ability to stretch the floor but also to mix it up with some tidy inside stuff as well.''
Henare said Wilkinson's ability to knock down the deep jumper created opportunities for his team-mates too, with improving import point guard Kerron Johnson (21 points on five-of-10 shooting) and small forward Tom Abercrombie (13 points) the most obvious benefactors from the driving lanes created. Corey Webster also chipped in 11 valuable points off the bench.
It was a huge win for the Breakers who led by one at the half and trailed by two heading into the final quarter. It lifts them to 5-9 for the season and off the bottom rung of the ladder, and doubles their road win tally as well as snapping a three-game losing streak.
With still three more away games to come, starting in Adelaide next Saturday, it's a vital injection of confidence for a Breakers outfit that desperately needed some feelgood.
''It's been a tough season so far - we've played some pretty good basketball but the results haven't gone our way,'' said Henare.
''For us to be able get through a grind-out type game and come away with a win is always going to be good for our confidence.''
Henare also highlighted another key aspect of the Breakers' fifth victory of the season - a much more urgent defensive effort that forced 21 turnovers from a sloppy Kings side.
''It was a bit of an arm-wrestle type game, and there weren't too many leads that stretched out right until the end. We were under pressure the whole game and just to see the ability to execute and get good shots and also force turnovers was heartening.
''That's got to be our highest game in terms of forcing them into 21 mistakes, so we were really happy with that stuff there.''
It wasn't all sweetness and light for the Breakers, though. They were pasted on the boards by the Kings, giving up 19 offensive boards and losing the overall count 46-23.
They also let Kings sharpshooter Ben Madgen (26 points) get away on them, especially in the first half when he kept his side in the contest as Abercrombie and Mika Vukona (seven points and eight rebounds) were shackled by foul trouble.
On the positive side they did a pretty solid job on the dangerous Sam Young (21 points, six rebounds) and contained Kings centre AJ Ogilvy who could manage just 10 points to go with his 16 rebounds (nine at the offensive end).
The champs of the last three seasons found a way to get it done without the presence of their best rim-protector, but may have to find an even higher level in Adelaide if they're to keep the roll going.
Scorers: NZ Breakers 99 (Gary Wilkinson 31, Kerron Johnson 21, Tom Abercrombie 13, Corey Webster 11), Sydney Kings 83 (Ben Madgen 26, Sam Young 21, Tom Garlepp 14, AJ Ogilvy 10). 1Q: 17-19; HT: 43-42; 3Q: 63-65.