McLeod lauds Hawks' mental game

BASKETBALL

The Wollongong Hawks settled on the right mix of brains and brawn to conquer NSW neighbours Sydney on Saturday night at WIN Entertainment Centre.

Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod hasn't faulted his side's efforts this season, but he has questioned their ability to think clearly under pressure.

That wasn't the case on Saturday.

The Hawks calmly regrouped after the Kings' early assault, dictating the tempo over the final three quarters and playing a much smarter game than the big-city boys when the pressure was on in crunch time.

Wollongong finished with just eight turnovers for the game, including one in the fourth period.

Sydney had 16 turnovers, 12 of which were committed by marquee players Sam Young and Ben Madgen.

The Hawks also won the all-important rebound battle 34-30 and out-scored the Kings 26-20 on points in the paint.

Wollongong's third win of the season wasn't enough to lift them off the bottom of the ladder, but McLeod believes his team should be confident heading into this weekend's rematch with the Kings in Sydney.

"We've been making good progress over the last month. It doesn't really show it in the win column but we've pushed some good teams," he said shortly after Saturday's victory.

"It was really nice that we had a great night defensively. We worked hard trying to disrupt them and trying to win the effort areas of the game, and that's where the Kings have normally beaten us in the past.

"We rebounded probably the best we have all year and we played consistently well for four quarters.

"We're known as a team that likes to shoot the ball from the three-point line, but we also want to get to the hole, and we had a good balance tonight. We got some heat on the rim, as well as good old-style penetration and kicking it out to the open man.

"The talent level on a lot of those other rosters is pretty good, so we need to play smart and we need to be efficient with what we do.

"Our decision-making and the way we valued the basketball was good, and we need to try and replicate those things, as well as the rebounding, in the next game."

Guard Rotnei Clarke was the standout for Wollongong with 27 points, Rhys Martin added 13, while Kevin Tiggs finished with 12.

Centre Larry Davidson had eight points and four rebounds in his return from a four-game lay-off with an ankle injury and Dave Gruber was solid inside with four points and eight rebounds.

Oscar Forman didn't shoot well (1-9) but had a team-high 10 rebounds.

"It was nice to have Larry back to give us that little bit more in the rotations," McLeod said.

"We're chuffed because we beat a very good team, a team who's been causing problems for a lot of teams, so we should take some confidence out of that.

"We'll enjoy the moment and then we'll evaluate and get back into the series again next week. I'm really pleased with the guys' efforts on a day-to-day basis, because that's where we're making progress."

Sydney coach Shane Heal had a pre-game suspicion his side wasn't mentally prepared for the Hawks.

"We were worried about this game all week, just because we know they're dangerous and we know they're good at home," he said.

"This was always going to be a danger game for us because their talent and performances are much better than their record.

"We just didn't have a great week and we've got a long way to go."

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