Nick Kay scored 20 points in the league-leading Perth Wildcats’ 98-93 overtime defeat of the Breakers in Auckland on Friday night.
It was the 206 centimetre forward’s best scoring performances since joining the Wildcats this season, after three successful seasons with the Illawarra Hawks.
The Tamworth product also had five assists and five rebounds – with the the NBL, in its match report, saying he “played large yet again”.
Kay, who won gold with the Boomers at this year’s Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, is averaging per game 14.2 points, 9.2 points (equal second in the NBL) and 3.1 assists through nines games this season, compared to career averages of 10.5, 5.4 and 1.9, respectively, in 94 games.
The 26-year-old’s field goal percentage of 59 per cent is third best in the league, while his average of 1.6 steals per game is fifth best.
The Wildcats hosts the Breakers on Sunday night.
Their win on Friday, their seventh-straight victory, could have come at a huge cost – as league MVP Bryce Cotton checked out with two minutes remaining in overtime, clutching his right thumb after Armani Moore pinned Cotton’s hand on the backboard on a fast break layup.
The proverbial blood, sweat and tears went into this dogged affair between two of the league’s historical powerhouses, as Wildcats stalwart Greg Hire spent half of the night trying to stop blood flowing from his forehead, while tears came from the Kiwi faithful after five Breakers fouled out.
Perth, welcoming back Terrico White, was in command for most of the night but never shut the door on the home side, which edged back in a slow-burning second half run to force overtime.
However, the visitors have had plenty of practice in close games already this season, and closed it out in style through multiple clutch plays by Mitch Norton down the stretch.
The difference in Perth is evident after a disappointing end to last campaign. The defence still brings its trademark physicality, but the willingness to share the ball and create offence for others has brought the West Australian club back to “revered” status as they appear to enter the FIBA International break leagues ahead of their competition.
Cotton posted a game-high 24 points, while Norton had 23 points.
The Breakers sorely missed rising star Finn Delany’s hustle on the glass, with multiple 'Cats offensive rebounds halting the home side’s brave fourth-quarter push. The 23-year-old suffered a minor knee injury and should be back immediately after the international break.
They were led by Tai Wesley’s 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and Shawn Long (17 points and six rebounds).
The Cats led 47-40 at half-time behind beautiful team play.
Cotton had just five field goal attempts and one assist, but ran the team to perfection with a bunch of hockey assists and dribble-penetration that led to others filling it up.
Cotton had 10 at the half, but the Norton (12 points) and Kay (11) tandem led the team.
But for New Zealand, the first half was quite literally all about the up and the down for Long. The star import out of University of Louisiana at Lafayette was on a pogo stick for the first 20 minutes, and his teammates were going aerial in finding him.
The up was four vicious alley-oops, each stronger and heavier than the last, and strong rebounding, while the down was three first-half fouls, goaltendings and an innocuous layup follow through that left Hire bloodied and later sporting something of a Hannibal Lecter look.
The hottest man on the floor had a flashy 14 points at the half, but flamed out quicker than Hungry Jack’s grills after closing time with a fourth foul early in the third frame.
After getting down by 13 points following back-to-back White threes, the Breakers started chipping away at the deficit – a slow but effective run that took them until the final 30 seconds of the game to pull back to level.
Long and Webster fouled out – the first foul-out in Webster’s 98-game Breakers career – within seconds of each other in the fourth quarter, but the fight in the home side was impressive until Perth put the foot down in the extra period.
Both sides do battle again in Perth on Sunday afternoon.
NBL ROUND 7
PERTH WILDCATS 98 (Cotton 24, Norton 23, Kay 20)
NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS 93 (Wesley 19, Long 17, Ili 12, Weeks 12)
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