Improving squad faces another test of character on travels

BASKETBALL

Strength of mind might be the Wollongong Hawks's greatest asset in Saturday's battle with Cairns.

After losing a couple of close games against Melbourne, the Hawks proved they can match it with the top teams with last week's impressive overtime win over league leaders Perth.

Given that Wollongong had not won in overtime at home in almost 13 years, their chances of knocking over the Wildcats seemed slim.

But it was the Cats who surprisingly blinked first.

The Hawks kept their nerve, notching their fifth win of the season and improving from last spot to sixth place on the ladder.

Wollongong coach Gordie McLeod hopes to see his side play with similar confidence and purpose if tonight's game goes down to the wire as expected.

"We've had success before on the road when we've played really good defence and been really aggressive offensively, and hopefully we can have that mindset," McLeod said.

"Every week brings a different challenge, and if anything this is a bigger challenge because we're playing against one of the most well balanced rosters in the league. When you look at what they got in every position, they've got it all covered.

"They've got a lot of versatility - strong guards, good shooting forwards and solid post players."

Wollongong have won four of their past seven games and could jump as high as fourth spot if they prevail tonight.

"We've had a good, solid week. We're trying to build on the good win over Perth," McLeod said.

"We'll be looking to go that little bit better than we did against Perth because there's always room for improvement in your total game. We gave up 18 offensive boards against Perth and we need to address that area.

"We need to stay really positive at the offensive end of the floor, while still working hard at the defensive end."

The Hawks will hope scoring leader Rotnei Clarke maintains his recent hot streak (15/20 three-pointers in the past two games).

McLeod is constantly thinking of new ideas to keep Clarke one step ahead of opponents.

"We can certainly expect as it goes on that Rotnei's going to get more attention, so we have to keep finding ways to keep him involved in the game," he said.

"Part of the challenge is seeing what the defence throws at you and being able to make adjustments on the fly."

The Hawks beat Cairns by two points in their previous meeting.

"It's only early in the series and it's a four-game series, so we'll need all hands on deck to grind it out," McLeod said.

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