Wilkinson pledges to bring the passion again
Gary Wilkinson admits his emotions probably got the better of him in Sydney on Saturday night, but the fiery Breakers big man won't be toning down anything as his team tonight enters must-win territory against Cairns at Vector Arena.
The 8-12 Breakers have eight games left to save their Aussie NBL season. Eight wins would get them into the top four, and even seven might be enough. Anything less, and their tilt at a historic fourpeat of titles will likely end in ignominy.
Last weekend's 98-96 defeat to the Kings was heartbreaking. Wilkinson played his part with a 33-point haul on 12-of-19 shooting, including a dazzling five of seven from downtown, but the Breakers' execution in the final minutes came up short.
The 2.08m Utah native was on fire in the third quarter as he rained in four straight triples, but then he picked up a technical foul late that appeared to be a momentum killer. The Kings reduced a nine-point deficit to just one by the final break, and scraped out a victory that solidified their fourth spot on the table.
Wilkinson yesterday told Fairfax Media that "you learn from your mistakes" in terms of containing the emotions, and he admitted he lost momentum after being subbed out after the tech-foul. He added just four points early in the final quarter, and was not a factor down the stretch.
"I hesitate to call it a mistake, because this is the way I've played my whole life," Wilkinson said. "But it's a fine line. Of course I'd love to always be the exact amount of passionate but that's just not going to be the case.
"Id rather be overly passionate and want it too much than not enough."
Breakers coach Dean Vickerman, who was one of a number to exchange words with Wilkinson after he came out of the game in Sydney, had nothing but praise for his centre's contributions since assuming the starting role.
"He's really motivated right now, he wants to get this team to the playoffs. He's gone to another level, and his passion is something we just want to bottle for everybody and not let it get over the top. He'll drive us through these last eight games."
Wilkinson, who was a big part of the Breakers' first two championships, is comfortable taking a lead role down a stretch of pivotal games.
"I'm feeling good, I know what my role is here and I know what I can do to help this team. My goal is to help us win, and whether that's scoring, rebounding, defending, or whatever, if I can help us take one step closer to the playoffs, that's what I want to do."
It's not lost on the sweet-shooting big man, though, that the Breakers are a much better team when the scoring load is spread a little more evenly than it was last weekend.
"That's when we've always been good. Different guys can step up at different times, and you don't rely on any one person getting the job done. You rely on each other as a team."
What was disappointing in Sydney was that when the game went on the line, the Breakers executed poorly and let a golden chance, to close right in on the Kings, slip through their fingers.
Vickerman defended his decision to go with struggling veteran C J Bruton ahead of Corey Webster late in the game, but the way Webster was lighting it up in practice yesterday the young Tall Black seems set to get a more prominent role this week.
The coach said every home game from now on was "massive" and admitted the 9-13 Taipans, and their array of outside threats, "stand in our way". Three of the Breakers' last eight games are against Cairns.
He called on a better rebounding effort, and some help for Wilkinson and Kerron Johnson, who had 18 points and 10 assists in Sydney. "Our two imports brought unbelievable energy and we just didn't have the production we had the week before from our local players. We need that against Cairns."