The Wollongong Hawks’ finals prospects took another hit with tonight’s 92-84 loss to NBL leaders New Zealand in Auckland.
New Zealand completed a 4-0 sweep of their regular season series with the Hawks and extended their win streak to 11.
Wollongong (9-13) have lost 11 of their past 13 games and need to win at least four of their final six matches to have any chance of securing a playoffs berth.
Guard Adris Deleon was the Hawks’ best with a game-high 33 points, while forward Oscar Forman finished with 21.
Mika Vukona led the Breakers with a career-best 24 points.
The Hawks will be desperate to revive their fading top four hopes when they host Townsville tomorrow afternoon at WIN Entertainment Centre.
Wollongong couldn’t have got away to a more disheartening start last night, giving up an offensive rebound in the opening seconds and following with a turnover on their first possession.
That was one of seven careless errors by the Hawks in the opening quarter alone.
New Zealand capitalised, clinically building a 16-4 lead after a few hard drives to the basket by Mika Vukona.
Forman warmed up at the other end, cutting the deficit to six.
But the Breakers responded and took a comfortable 26-14 lead into the second period.
Wollongong’s situation quickly went from bad to worse, as the margin blew out to 17.
The two-time reigning champions showed why they are short favourites to claim a third straight crown, targeting their opponents’ weaknesses at both ends of the floor.
The Hawks regrouped to stop the rot, but they effectively swapped baskets with the Breakers over the final six minutes of the half and trailed 48-37 at half-time.
Vukona paced his side with 11 points on 5/7 shooting and centre Alex Pledger added eight points and three blocks.
Deleon was a perfect 5/5 for 13 points, while Forman was equally impeccable with eight points on 4/4 shooting.
But the Hawks were out-rebounded 14-10 and grabbed just one offensive board.
More telling was their 11 turnovers – a disastrous statistic for a team which averages a league-low 12 turnovers per game.
The start of the third period mirrored that of the first period, as the visitors forgot to rebound the Breakers’ missed three-point attempt on the opening possession.
New Zealand forward Tom Abercrombie made them pay, splashing his three-point shot for a 14-point lead.
Wollongong stubbornly refused to buckle, trimming the margin to eight after Forman hit a three and Tom Coenraad found Gruber with a clever no-look pass for a lay-up.
It was six a minute later, but the home team replied in no uncertain terms, surging away to a 73-60 three-quarter time lead.
Inspired by Deleon and fellow guard Malcolm Grant, the Hawks kept fighting and were within three with less than two minutes to play, but Vukona made two clutch baskets in the final minute to seal New Zealand’s 20th victory.