The Cockburn Cougars are back home to host the South West Slammers at Wally Hagan Stadium on Friday night with captain Kirsty Whitfield celebrating her 200th SBL/NBL1 West game to earn life membership.
The Cougars women will put their undefeated record on the line on Friday night and will attempt to celebrate the captain’s milestone with a victory up against the winless Slammers. Tip-off is set for 6.30pm.
The men’s contest will then follow with both the Cougars and Slammers coming into the clash with 1-6 records on the season, but Cockburn has won seven straight against South West with tip-off at 8.30pm.
The Cockburn Cougars put their undefeated streak on the line against the winless South West Slammers on Friday night in the 200th game in the league for captain Kirsty Whitfield.
The Cougars beat the Joondalup Wolves last Saturday night also at Wally Hagan Stadium to be the last remaining undefeated team left in the NBL1 West competition with a perfect 5-0 record.
Cockburn now puts that on the line this Friday night against a Slammers team who not only has lost their first six games of 2022, but their last 18 matches overall in the NBL1 West and 59 of the past 60 going back further.
However, the Slammers were more competitive last week against the Warwick Senators with Paris Duffield marking her return with 31 points while playing-coach Alex Ciabattoni spent her most amount of time on court this season.
It’s a significant occasion on Friday night for the Cougars and for Whitfield to be becoming the latest life member to reach 200 games.
It’s an occasion for Thwaites to reflect on his time coaching Whitefield, and their captain-coach relationship, and how much he treasures having her presence on the team for a whole host of reasons.
“It really is special and to have it here at home where she can play in front of her family and friends means it will be a great night for KP,” Thwaites said.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time coaching her even though she has come in and out a little bit because obviously she had her second child, but to have her leadership over the past two years it just gels so well with me.
“That relationship between coach and captain is so important in building a program, and she holds me accountable and the group accountable. She’s just so level and the best bit for us is that it’s not just the leadership qualities, she complements that with her on-court style that is selfless.
“She also can make a significant contribution to the box score if you leave her unchecked and she’s done that in a couple of games this year and put her basketball IQ to work.”
The Cougars have won their last five matches against the Slammers by an average of 49.8 points including an 89-point win in the first clash last season, but there’s no way any complacency will be allowed to creep in by Thwaites.
The last win for South West over Cockburn was on July 6, 2019 and while the Cougars have dominated the five clashes since, Thwaites will be taking them as seriously as any other team even if they’ve won just one of their previous 60 matches in the competition.
“We spoke about it to be honest briefly after the game on Saturday and we made it very clear this is a week of learning just like any other week,” Thwaites said.
“There is no foot off the accelerator by any stretch and if we did that, to be honest, that would be a sign of a team that’s complacent and it would be disrespectful to the Slammers.
“We want to come out and play our way, and win because we’re great and not win because the other team didn’t perform on the night. Chiba’s making great strides with that Slammers team and we’re not going to take anything for granted. We want to win the right way Friday night at home and do it for KP.”
As for the men’s contest, it features two teams chasing their second wins of the NBL1 West season with the Cockburn Cougars hosting the South West Slammers.
With both teams entering the contest with identical 1-6 records, it becomes almost a must-win affair as both sides attempt to remain in contention for a playoff berth in 2023.
While the Cougars record of 1-6 isn’t what anyone hoped for to start the new season, if you take out the disappointing showings at home to Willetton and Geraldton, and the form hasn’t been too bad.
There was a missed opportunity at Lakeside back in Round 3 before two encouraging performances against the rampant Rockingham Flames, and then again last Saturday was a chance gone begging when leading the Joondalup Wolves by 12 points in the third quarter.
So the 1-6 record isn’t as bad in terms of the performances from the Cougars as it looks, but the wins do need to start coming and they need to make it happen on Friday night at Wally Hagan Stadium against the Slammers.
Cockburn hasn’t lost to the Slammers now since July 14, 2018 and have won the past seven meetings between the two teams by an average of 22 points.
Going back to the last win the Slammers had and it was Travis Durnin, Michael Lay, Cory Richardson, Clive Weeden, Brian Voelkel and Brandon Thompson instrumental in the win.
It was a Cockburn team where Gavin Field put up 26 points along with 10 boards, eight assists and four steals while Brandon Sebirumbi top-scored with 27 to go with 13 rebounds.
While the Slammers have lost their past five matches this season by an average of 23 points, there’ll be no complacency creeping in for a Cougars team chasing their second win of the season.
Cougars coach Andrew Cooper is fully aware that if his team isn’t on song that the Slammers with the talents of Buay Tuach, Ben Stevens, Manyiel Wugol and Xavier Cotton along with the leadership of Weeden and, if he plays, Richardson will take some beating.
“We definitely won’t be taking them lightly. I don’t take anybody lightly especially these days with how tight the competition is,” Cooper said.
“Buay Tuach is an amazing talent and he’s proven that he can play at the highest level as well so we’ve definitely got our work cut out for him. They’ve also got a lot of young guys who are trying to find their way and make their way in the league as well.
“Goffy is a great coach so we definitely won’t be taking them lightly but as I say every week, if we just play Cockburn basketball and don’t get outworked and fix a few of those smaller things then we should be OK.”
The Cougars will once again be without vice-captain and 271-game point guard Seva Chan but Cooper has been impressed with the way new arrival Kieran Berry has picked up the slack in his first season with Cockburn.
Berry will get the starting nod again in the one spot on Friday night in what will be his 100th game in the league. Obviously Cooper would like Chan back as soon as possible, he also realises the added responsibility is helping Berry blend in even quicker at his new club.
“I doubt we’ll get Seva back, I think he’s still a couple of weeks away. That does make it hard for our point guard rotation, but Kieran Berry has been doing a great job having to shoulder the load on his own,” Cooper said.
“KB has been great and he has fitted in great. He’s also still developing and we forget how young he still is. Having to come in and run a team pretty much after only being here for half a pre-season has been great for him, and it’s going to set us up well no matter what happens this year for the future.
“We keep forgetting how young we are and then we have another young guy running the team. That might explain a lot of these errors we’re having in the back end of games, but hopefully we’ll continue to fix those and KB will continue to improve. The best thing about him is that he’s just a great bloke and that’s why he fits our group so well.”