Taipans target red-hot Rotnei

BASKETBALL 

Stopping the NBL's hottest player, Rotnei Clarke, has suddenly become a whole lot more pressing for the Cairns Taipans in tomorrow night's duel with Wollongong.

The Hawks guard has averaged 24.8 points in his past five outings and is threatening to overtake Melbourne's Chris Goulding and Perth's James Ennis as the league's top scorer.

Clarke exploded for a season-high 37 points in a New Year's Eve double overtime loss to Melbourne before backing it up five days later with 28 points and seven assists in an overtime win against Perth.

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During that two-game stretch, he has connected on a blistering 15/20 three-point shots.

Clarke hit the game-winning basket when Wollongong beat the Taipans in round seven and has raised his game a couple of notches since that meeting in Cairns.

"Obviously Rotnei's playing unbelievable right now," Cairns coach Aaron Fearne said.

"I think you have to defend him as a team. Obviously guys have to defend individually very well, but it's a team thing, because Wollongong will move the ball a lot and run Rotnei off a lot of screens."

As good as Clarke was against the Wildcats, the Hawks won because they received important input from a variety of sources.

Import Kevin Tiggs chalked up five steals and 14 points, playing his best in crunch time.

Fearne said the Taipans won't focus all their defensive energy on Clarke.

"We didn't defend Tiggs great around the paint in the last game. He hurt us down there, so we'll have to eliminate that," he said.

"[Coach] Gordie's [McLeod] teams always have that ability to get in a rhythm. You can't fall asleep on Rhys [Martin] and Larry [Davidson], [Dave] Gruber's always played well against us. Oscar [Forman] and [Tim] Coenraad ... they have the ability to spread the floor and punish you that way, so it's not a one-man show.

"Games between Cairns and Wollongong always seem to be tight affairs and I expect the same type of thing on Saturday night."

Tomorrow's game will be the 350th for McLeod as either a player or coach.

He played nine seasons for the Hawks and has been coaching the club since the 2009-10 season.

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