It was close, but the Perth Wildcats pulled away to secure a 80-73 win in Perth on Friday night.
AJ Ogilvy had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Kevin White top scored for the Hawks with 16 points (4/4 from deep).
Then it’s back home for a big weekend double header at the WIN Entertainment Centre when we host Perth on Friday night, and Cairns on Sunday.
The Hawks have yet to win in Perth since November 23, 2005, with the 25-game losing run stretching over both Challenge Stadium and Perth Arena.
The visitors fought hard despite the absence of coach Rob Beveridge (son Jaydon’s graduation) and injured point guard Mitch Norton.
They threatened in the final quarter, getting within two points after an 8-0 run, but Wildcats centre Jameel McKay scored two late baskets and emphatically swatted two shots while Shawn Redhage provided important minutes before Andre Ingram (three triples for nine points) delivered the killer blow with 1:14 on the clock.
While Casey Prather was a dominant presence again with 24 points, six rebounds and four assists, he appeared to injure a calf late, leaving him in doubt for Sunday’s clash with Melbourne United at Hisense Arena.
Kevin White stepped up for Illawarra with 16 points nailing all four of his three-point attempts, while AJ Ogilvy worked hard inside for 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Rotnei Clarke finished with 13 points and four assists.
Foul trouble to Nick Kay (seven points) and Michael Holyfield (one point, three rebounds) hurt their impact.
Eric Cooks stepped up to coach the Hawks in the absence of Beveridge and was happy with the team’s fight, but said being outrebounded 46 to 34 proved telling.
“It was disappointing. I thought we had our chances and at times we played pretty well, but the rebounds really hurt us. They really pounded us on the boards and that’s one of the things they do here well,” Cooks said.
“There’s no doubt that our guys want to fight, but we have to find a way to win in this league.”
It was an ominous opening with the returning Knight scoring the game’s first basket but the Hawks soon settled well with the next seven points.
A freshly cropped Greg Hire and new arrival Ingram started a Perth 10-0 early in the second quarter, and by the time Prather stole it off Harris and delivered a one-handed slam, the ‘Cats led by nine and still six at half-time.
Prather led the charge to extend the lead to 16 in the third period but White nailed another couple of threes as the Hawks got within six before Ingram answered just before three quarter-time.
Illawarra wasn’t done with yet however. White’s four three and then four quick points to Clarke had them back within three, which was further cut to two after a Harris free throw.
Ingram nailed his big three while Prather returned while hobbled to make two crucial free-throws to secure the win over a Hawks team that never gave up.
The players would love to see your support in Sydney on Monday night when we take on the Kings and back at home for two home games next weekend, looking for revenge against Perth on Friday 28th and Cairns Sunday 30th.
PERTH WILDCATS 80 (Prather 24, McKay 14, Knight 12)
ILLAWARRA HAWKS 73 (White 16, Ogilvy 15, Clarke 13)