The CQUniversity Cairns Taipans have claimed a crucial 80-78 win over the Perth Wildcats on Monday night, levelling the series with the defending Champions 1-1.
Led by the sharpshooting of veteran Stephen Weigh, the entire nation had eyes fixed on the 29-year-old as he posted double digits for the third consecutive game.
He hit the shots when it mattered and while Perth mounted a late charge to get the game within just two points in the final minute, the struggling Snakes did just enough to keep their ship afloat.
Cairns Taipans Head Coach Aaron Fearne said his side’s work on the glass in the second half – outrebounding Perth by four after being monstered in the first half – was the key to the win.
“The guys just really battled, it was a bit of a ‘grind’ game. They always seem to be those type of games against [Perth],” he said.
“The physicality, the rebounding is always a massive focus for the game. We weren’t great in the first half, but to end up with 16 offensive boards – that basically turned the game.
“The bench really was the reason we won tonight. I’m happy for those guys. They work really hard and have that tight connection with each other and they come out and produce what they put out at practice.”
Weigh had a team-high 19 points and hit three massive triples in the fourth-quarter – two coming in an 8-0 run sparked by a spectacular Mitch McCarron alley-oop – after fellow wildcard Jarrad Weeks (16 points) got hot in a fun third term.
Both teams took a personnel hit prior to the game with Taipans veteran Mark Worthington being rested and ‘Cats stud Casey Prather “pulling up sore” – the club’s official explanation – after warming up just minutes before tip-off.
The first half was a rendition of Comedy Capers as both teams shot in the low-mid 30s and committed seven turnovers apiece.
The visitors, led by Prather’s replacement in the starting five Greg Hire, were all over the glass in the early stages as they got out to a quick 8-0 lead.
Leading second-chance points 17-4 by half-time, the eye test said Perth should have easily been up double digits for most of the first half, but Cairns kept within touching distance, trailing 34-33 at the main break.
After some lethargic man and ball movement from both offences in the first half, they picked it up for a 48-point third term before Weeks canned three long bombs in the final two minutes before three-quarter time.
Going bucket-for-bucket early in the final term, the Orange Army looked in for another nail-biter before Weeks found McCarron, who rammed it down on Dexter Kernich-Drew’s head to give the home side the impetus for the crucial victory.