James Hunter’s Breakers celebrate Mika Vukona's milestone with win

The New Zealand Breakers after their win in Perth. Photo: NBL
The New Zealand Breakers after their win in Perth. Photo: NBL

THE New Zealand Breakers and James Hunter, of Cambewarra, have celebrated Mika Vukona's 400th game by silencing the 13,523 strong Perth Arena crowd, beating the Perth Wildcats 88-82 to shoot further clear atop the NBL ladder.

The Breakers split it open in the second half with the evergreen Kirk Penney (17 points) at the centre of it to record their eighth straight victory.

It backs up the win at home to Perth on Thursday to improve to 8-1 to be ahead of the 5-3 Wildcats. The Breakers have won five straight now against the 'Cats.

It was the first home loss for 2017/18 for Perth in front of the third biggest crowd ever at Perth Arena in the NBL's most remarkable current-day rivalry.

It was a win to savour, with five-time championship-winning captain Vukona having six points, eight rebounds and five assists on his milestone night.

He couldn't hide his pride in his team afterwards.

"We didn't want to come in here and not put the effort in that we played with against Perth back home," Vukona said.

"We knew we were coming into an amazing atmosphere and on top of that, there is the 400 but it's just a number.

“To come out with the win regardless of that is amazing.

"Any time you can get a win in this gym is huge. We've got a lot of respect for the organisation and we cherish every win we can get here against these guys."

DJ Newbill came up huge too with 20 points on 7/9 shooting from the floor and 2/4 from deep. Shea Ili's 11 points, five rebounds and three assists were pivotal.

Alex Pledger was the most influential big in the game with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Edgar Sosa contributed nine points and five assists.

Jean-Pierre Tokoto did all he could for the Wildcats with 30 points and seven rebounds. Fellow import Bryce Cotton scored 19 points.

Lucas Walker battled hard again for nine points and seven boards, but foul trouble for Angus Brandt and Derek Cooke Jr was telling after Matt Knight's retirement. Both had five points and three boards.

Captain Damian Martin had seven assists while limiting Sosa's offensive output.

Wildcats coach Trevor Gleeson wasn't necessarily happy with how he handled Clint Steindl's debut even with his big men in foul trouble.

"We are still trying to tinker with things and with Matt leaving, it's left us an area that we have to fill. He was our leading rebounder for five years and one of our best defenders," Gleeson said.

"That's highlighted when our big fellas get in trouble. I'm not really happy with the rotations I put out there either. I've got to get Clint and Dexter (Kernich-Drew) in there for more of a look."

New Zealand's first score was courtesy of milestone man Vukona. But Tokoto started strongly for Perth with seven quick points before he picked up two fouls.

That became the story of the opening quarter, with bigs Brandt, Pledger and Rob Loe all picking up two.

An and-one from Newbill, triple from Ili and then those two again combining for the quarter's last four points saw Breakers lead 23-21 after one.

Pledger was taking advantage with six points in the space of three minutes to start the second term with Perth's bigs in foul trouble.

Tokoto was a one-man show, keeping the Wildcats in the contest with his athleticism to rise about the defence for his jumper outstanding though.

Perth led at half-time 41-39 after a first half that saw 37 lead changes with neither side leading by more than three.

The 'Cats made the first break in the second half leading by a game-high six thanks to Tokoto. But the Breakers responded with triples to Tom Abercrombie and Newbill, and a game-defining 14-2 run.

The Breakers led narrowly 60-58 heading into the last and it was all the Breakers. Two triples to Penney opened a six-point gap and Loe's three with 5:00 left made it eight.

The Wildcats wouldn't give it up and did get within two on a Cotton three with 1:25 left. But a huge drive and layup, offensive board and jumper from Ili sealed the deal for the visitors.

Both teams face the Brisbane Bullets next with the Wildcats on the road to them Friday and the Breakers hosting them Sunday.


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