GALLERY: Clarke rips through Wildcats defenders

BASKETBALL

If Rotnei Clarke’s critics (and there can’t be many) needed any more convincing of his capabilities, the Wollongong Hawks guard provided another breathtaking display on Saturday night at WIN Entertainment Centre.

Clarke was magnificent in his team’s stunning 96-91 overtime victory over perennial heavyweights Perth, hitting 6/10 three-point bombs on the way to a game-high 28 points.

The 24-year-old proved he is anything but a one-dimensional scorer, dishing out seven assists and playing the entire 45 minutes.

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That he was being shadowed by the NBL’s best defender, Damian Martin, from the opening tip to the final whistle only magnifies how well Clarke played.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Clarke was coming off a 37-point night against the Melbourne Tigers on New Year’s Eve.

Voted the NBL Player of the Month for December, he has made a sizzling 15/20 three-point shots over the past two games.

Clarke’s absorbing head-to-head battle with Martin was one for the ages.

Martin graciously tipped his hat to his opponent after Wollongong chalked up their fifth win of the season.

‘‘He’s a special player,’’ Martin said.

‘‘He’s shown all season what he’s capable of, but he’s really hit a purple patch at the moment. He’s the smartest point guard in the league.

‘‘When you can shoot as well as he does and pass as well as he does, it becomes a team effort on him. We threw everything at him from hard [defensive] shows to switching to doubles, and he was still too good for us.

‘‘It was a hell of a game. He got the better of all of us and he’s showing why he’s probably the best point guard in the league right now.’’

Not bad praise from a man who has shut down many  gifted scorers.

Wollongong captain Oscar Forman said the Hawks have happily hitched their wagon to the mercurial Clarke.

‘‘Rot does take a lot of pressure,’’ Forman said.

‘‘We shove him in bad situations where he’s doubled and tripled [defensively], and that’s the type of player he is. He’s crafty, he’s quick. You have to respect his three obviously, but his real strength is getting on the rim.

‘‘He’s an unselfish player. We ask him to take a huge workload and he does that without questioning it.’’

Martin believes his side has lost their defensive focus.

‘‘It’s frustrating when you come out against a guy and you know what he’s capable of but he still goes for 28,’’ he said.

‘‘Until our team accepts that we’re defence first and offence second, we’re going to give up 20-plus points to special players like that.’’

 The Hawks  ‘‘deserved to win, but the frustrating bit is you can’t talk about what you’re going to do in the huddle or at half-time, and  then come out and do something else’’, Martin said.

‘‘Full credit to Wollongong. When it counted and for long periods of the game, they were certainly better than us.’’

The Hawks jumped two spots to sixth, and  the Cats remain on top with a 12-3 record.

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