The Cockburn Cougars scored two more crucial Round 11 NBL1 West wins on the weekend with coach Andrew Cooper delighted with how the offence is clicking, but now he wants the defence to improve as they chase a playoff position.
Cockburn had two more critical match ups on the weekend and came away with two important wins beating the Mandurah Magic 117-97 at Wally Hagan Stadium on Friday before backing it up to beat the Warwick Senators on the road 101-98 on Saturday.
Those results improve the Cougars to a 6-8 record on the season to now be closing in on a playoff position in the NBL1 West.
Starting on Friday night, the longer the game went the more the Cougars began to pull away and the lead got out to as much as 17 points in the third quarter, and then 20 in the fourth.
Gavin Field kept his hot form going for the Cougars with the six-time club MVP and 308-game captain having 18 points in the first half and finishing with 25 for the game to go with 10 assists, eight rebounds and five steals while shooting 7/12 from beyond the arc.
He had plenty of help with Courtney Alexander II putting up 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists on 13/23 shooting while Keegan Phillips had another 20 points, eight boards, four assists and two blocks.
Taj Benning also had 18 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals for Cockburn, Josh Hunt 12 points, four assists and three rebounds, and Kieran Berry three points and seven assists.
Coach Cooper was happy with the effort against a dangerous opposition.
“It was a good all-round effort from our guys, certainly on the offensive end. In the second half, as usual, we were a lot better defensively and when they lost Bobbitt, that hurt because he was playing and he’s tough,” Cooper said.
“Mandurah have the ability to shake it up a bit now especially with him in their line-up so we always knew it was going to be tricky, and we knew both teams had our strengths and weaknesses. Luckily for us we were able to maintain our offensive flow for most of the game.”
That led into a Saturday night match up with a Senators team also needing to bounce back from a Friday loss to East Perth to hold onto their top eight position.
Warwick did open up an eight-point lead by three quarter-time, but the Cougars weren’t going away and it was Alexander who turned the game in their favour in the final term.
After Caleb Davis hit a huge three for Warwick to see his team regain the lead with 1:45 to play, Alexander threw down a thunderous dunk on the back of an offensive rebound. He then drove hard to the basket and athletically finished to make it a three-point game.
A rough Senators turnover denied them a chance to execute a play and then it was only a rushed three at the buzzer they could get off through Connor Mincherton. But it wasn’t close and the Cougars went on to win by three.
For Cooper, he knows the importance of beating a team currently inside the top eight.
“It’s important that we can beat the teams above us otherwise we’ve got no chance of making finals, that’s obvious,” Cooper said.
“So we went into that game feeling pretty confident that if we got it right we’d be up and in a position to beat them.
“Things went against us during the game and they sort of had their runs, and we had our runs. But I think all in all, we showed a lot more maturity down the stretch in that last quarter than we have done in the past.
“That was the most pleasing thing I think considering we’ve still got a pretty young line-up outside of Gav. There were some pretty big plays made at both ends of the floor that helped us get over the line.”
In the fourth quarter alone, Alexander threw down a couple of huge dunks and several other finishes around the basket to inspire the Cougars down the stretch.
He finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds on 11/16 shooting for Cockburn but all his best work was done when it mattered most in the final period.
While coach Cooper can’t be happier with his offensive output, he now wants to see him grow defensively.
“Courtney offensively we know what he can do. So the challenge now for him from me especially is the defensive end of the floor,” Cooper said.
“We’re really happy with the way he’s progressing on the offensive end and he can do things that no one else in this league can do at that end of the floor. But the challenge to him now is to become a better defender, and help us at that end of the floor as well.”
While Alexander’s big plays down the stretch grabbed the highlights, Cooper pointed to a tip from Taj Benning on an offensive rebound that led to an Alexander crucial late dunk that highlighted his value.
Benning finished with 21 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Cooper can’t be happier with the all-round contributions he’s making.
“One of the big plays that probably not a lot of people noticed was the offensive tip on the rebound that Taj made to get it to Courtney for the dunk that really sealed it,” he said.
“They are the sort of things that we get out of Taj that a lot of people don’t realise. It’s just those little hustle plays that he can do that can get us over the line in that aspect as well.”
Now that the Cougars have won three straight matches along with seven of the past 10 matches to now improve to a 6-8 record on the season, Cooper is happy with their growth even in the continued absence of Seva Chan, Nathan Pond and Luke Phillips.
While Cooper can’t be happier with the way the offence is coming together, he knows if they want to play finals in 2023 they do need to get better defensively.
“At the offensive end, I’m happy with the way we’re playing for sure and I still have my concerns on the defensive end,” Cooper said.
” We gave up 57 in the first half in both games on the weekend so that’s the area that we need to be better at. At the end of the day, you’ve got to stop teams scoring to win at some point.
“We were good on Saturday in that last quarter and we outscored them 23 to 12 which was the difference in the game obviously. That’s the sort of thing that we need to do more of than less of.
“If we can get that right and continue to play offence the way we are, then we’re going to be tough to beat the rest of the season.”