Hawks into finals, but now it gets really tough

BASKETBALL

They might be the NBL's hottest team, yet the Wollongong Hawks are the undisputed underdogs of the finals series.

Wollongong clinched the final play-off berth with last Friday's 100-87 defeat of arch-rivals Sydney - their seventh victory in eight games.

Game one of a best-of-three semi-final series between the Hawks (4) and Wildcats (1) is scheduled for this Friday in Perth.

Game two shifts to Wollongong this Sunday. A third game, if required, would switch back to Perth on Tuesday week.

Adelaide (2) host Melbourne (3) in game one of the other semi-final series on Thursday.

The Wildcats set a cracking pace early in the season, making top spot their own and staying there for the entire 28 games.

Many NBL watchers liken Perth's series with the Hawks as a David versus Goliath battle. But Cats coach Trevor Gleeson will be wary of Wollongong.

Hawks coach Gordie McLeod has steered his side into the post-season in three of the past five years and won't mind that almost everyone is picking Perth to dominate the series.

"The exciting thing is that we get to play in the finals," McLeod said.

"This is what everyone works towards, to be playing at this time of the season. It's going to be a great environment to go into and play. It's a great challenge in front of us and we have to sit down and work out what we feel is going to be our best way to do it."

A semi-final spot seemed a long shot when the Hawks were languishing at the bottom of the ladder with 13 losses from their first 19 games.

They turned their season around in the nick of time, climbing into fourth spot with a string of impressive wins.

Wollongong are playing as well as any team in the finals and McLeod is confident his side will feel the work is only half done.

"The season is irrelevant - you just throw all that away," he said.

"Now that it's done, it's all about lessons learned. You're in a series and one team has to win two games.

"The coaching staff is rapt. We're unbelieveably proud of these guys and how they've grown as a group and hung tough. We're playing in a flow now and we have to try to keep that happening. The exciting thing is that we really feel there's room for improvement."

Even though they still had to play Sunday's season-ending road game against Perth, the Hawks already knew the win over Sydney had secured a finals spot.

"It's just an amazing feeling to clinch it on our home court," McLeod said.

"It's great reward for the players, it's fantastic for the fans and it gives our office staff a shot in the arm."

The Hawks wrapped up the 28-game regular season with Sunday's 86-65 loss to Perth, though it had no bearing on the final standings.

Wollongong finished alone in fourth spot with a 13-15 record and will remain in Perth this week to prepare for Friday's opener.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop