If you talk about an odds defying win, it doesn’t get much bigger than what the Cockburn Cougars did in Kalgoorlie on Saturday night to beat the Goldfields Giants and coach Andrew Cooper couldn’t have been prouder.
The Cougars arrived in Kalgoorlie without starting point guard and vice-captain Seva Chan, emerging big man Luke Phillips, backup centre Nathan Pond, veteran guard Hayden Bell, and a young player who could have contributed, Charlie Dimmock.
On top of that, the Cougars had to travel to Kalgoorlie to take on a Giants team fresh off a confidence boosting win against the league-leading Perry Lakes Hawks the previous Saturday night.
If you throw in the fact that as the night unfolded, Cougars star Courtney Alexander II was limited to just 22 minutes with foul trouble and that left debutant big Kaidon Sander having to play a significant role, and the eventual win became all the more remarkable.
Cockburn also found themselves 10 points behind during the third quarter just to raise the level of difficulty they were facing.
The Giants went back up by 10 during the third quarter and it was going to take something special for Cockburn to turn things around, and that’s exactly what they delivered.
Captain Gavin Field caught fire once more for Cockburn to knock down a couple of three-pointers to bring his team back into the contest, and he hit yet another bomb from outside just before three quarter-time.
Sander was then making the most of his opportunities too and scored after the Cougars forced another turnover to help them lead 74-70 going into the fourth.
Cockburn then took charge in the fourth period outscoring Goldfields 23 points to 15 to claim the 12-point win with coach Cooper beaming with pride afterwards.
“I think it came down to the fact that the guys made a decision that they didn’t want to lose,” Cooper said.
“I threw the challenge out to them before the start of the game that we can’t afford to lose any more if we want to play in the playoffs. We did it in 2021 where we started 2-9 and ended up finishing the season 9-2 to make playoffs, and we’ve put ourselves in a similar type of position.
“We decided as a group that we just needed to buckle down and have a bit of fun at the same time. We didn’t want to be playing too tight and I think that showed early with the way Gav came out hitting some shots. But I firmly believe that mentally we were in a mindset that we just weren’t going to lose.”
You can’t deny how the odds were stacked against the Cougars, but coach Cooper had faith in his shorthanded group and challenged them to not let another game slip before tip-off.
While Field was brilliant especially keeping the Cougars in the contest in the first half and finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks on 8/15 three-point shooting, he had plenty of help.
Keegan Phillips stepped up for 23 points and eight rebounds with Taj Benning contributing 12 points, five assists and three rebounds, and Josh Hunt 22 points, four rebounds and two assists.
With Alexander limited to 22 minutes and six points, 11 rebounds and three assists because of foul trouble too, Sander had to play a crucial 11 minutes on debut and produced a critical four points, two assists and a rebound.
It was the effort of the whole team that just refused to lose that most pleased Cooper.
“Obviously our rotation was short because we were down numbers but I challenged them at the start and said that every player who hits the floor whether it’s for one or 40 minutes, has to have an impact for us to be able to win,” Cooper said.
“Gav was outstanding early and set the tone, but the fourth quarter from Keegan Phillips turned the game in our favour. Kaidon Sander on debut was a bit shaky on the first rotation when he came in, but he made a couple of big plays down the stretch for us in the third and fourth.
“Josh Hunt is just starting to hit his straps and making some really big plays. And we did it really without Courtney having a huge impact either just because he had some foul trouble.
“Taj was solid doing a really good job on Dupree whilst still contributing at the offensive end. The whole team as a group was really good and I was really, really proud of them to be honest.”
It turned out a night to celebrate in Kalgoorlie for the Cougars organisation with the women also remaining undefeated, and Cooper is now hoping it can help his team build some momentum to build on their 4-8 record.
“I wasn’t on the bus because us coaches had a car, but I’m sure the players enjoyed the bus ride,” Cooper added.
“To be honest, the big thing for us was having the ability to sing the song in the changeroom. The girls joined us to sing the song as a group and Pete led the way.
“He was really excited because it’s games like that for people like Pete is what it’s all about. I don’t want to get too far ahead, but it was a really big game for us and we did similar things in 2021 in Kalgoorlie to try and start turning our season around.
“We did it then so hopefully this gives us a bit of momentum moving forward.”