MELBOURNE United coach Dean Vickerman admits his side made a concerted effort to up the physicality on Illawarra star Rotnei Clarke in the second half of their 91-73 win over the Hawks on Monday.
With the Hawks going into the clash without their two other offensive focal points in AJ Ogilvy and Demitrius Conger, a red-hot Clarke dropped 19 points in the first half as the visitors trailed by just four points at the main break.
The tide turned in the second however, with United back-court pair Chris Goulding and Casper Ware putting the clamp on Clarke who added just five points to his halftime tally.
The Hawks other NBL rivals will no doubt examine the tape with interest as they look for ways to shut down the former MVP. Hawks coach Rob Beveridge admitted United came up with an effective approach.
“I thought they were very, very physical, particularly with Rotty,” Beveridge said.
“I thought Rotty was just outstanding in that first half but they went to another level defensively [in the second]. [Clarke] was playing against bigger more physical players and they did a hell of a job on him.
“Once they took Rotty away that took away our offensive game. In saying that we had plenty of looks. We had a lot of uncontested threes and if we make them it’s a different ball game”
Clarke also conceded that Goulding and Ware did a good job in limiting his possessions.
“In the first half I got a couple of good looks in transition with teammates finding me and I was just trying to be aggressive,” Clarke said.
“In the second half they got physical and just tried to make it tough to get a catch and they did a good job of that. Coming off on-balls they either trapped or did a good job of corralling me and making me give it up. That’s a credit to them but I guess I’ve just got to get better.”
Beveridge did admit he was left frustrated by the lack of foul calls as United roughed-up his star shooter.
“The way they played [the referees] kept saying ‘hands off’ and ‘stop grabbing’ well it’s real simple – call it,” Beveridge said.
“I was a bit annoyed that that’s the way it was but it is what it is. We have to adapt because, obviously, they’re not going to call it.”
Melbourne went through some wrestling and MMA sessions during the NBL’s two-week break as Vickerman looked to bring out some aggression, and the United mentor made no apologies for the physical approach post-match.
“It’s what we wanted to do, we practiced for two weeks on our physicality,” Vickerman said.
“With a few guys missing you knew Rotnei was going to be ultra aggressive and we saw that early on.
“At halftime we just changed our mindset a little bit. We talked about how to defend him and we went a little bit more to ‘lets stop him catching the basketball’.
“He’s too good when he’s getting catches so we just wanted to do everything we could to stop him catching it and it seemed to have a better effect.”