The Beeliar Boodjar Cougars were missing three starters for most of the First Nations Round double-header, but still went ever so close to coming away with two wins and coach Andrew Cooper couldn’t be prouder.
The Cougars came into the weekend knowing they would likely need to win all their remaining matches to stay in the playoff race over the last three weeks, but it was a significant task up against the Willetton Tigers on Saturday.
Willetton was looking to lock away its own top four position but Beeliar Boodjar were outstanding and that was despite coming into the game without regular starters Kieran Berry and Keegan Phillips with Luke Phillips having already been ruled out for the rest of the season.
To top that off, captain Gavin Field went off late in the first quarter and didn’t return for the rest of the weekend but despite all that, the Cougars put themselves in a winning position against the Tigers.
Beeliar Boodjar ended up leading by three points at quarter-time, seven at half-time and still by two at three quarter-time. The Cougars then had their last lead when Seva Chan scored with just over three minutes to play before Willetton outscored them 13 points to six the rest of the way to win 107-101.
Despite the loss, in the circumstances it was a performance full of heart from the Cougars with Courtney Alexander II setting a new season high with 34 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 15/27 from the floor and just 4/12 from the foul line.
Taj Benning also set a new benchmark with 30 points, five rebounds and three assists while Josh Hunt contributed 13 points, five boards, three assists and three steals, Seva Chan 10 points and six assists, and Nathan Pond six points and 10 rebounds.
That led into a clash with the Goldfields Giants at Wally Hagan Stadium on Sunday afternoon with the Cougars regaining Berry for the contest, but still being without Keegan and Luke Phillips, and Field.
The Giants came out on fire on that quest for a third straight win to put up 35 points in the opening term and lead by 16 at quarter-time.
That lead got out to as much as 18 points in the second term as well but the Cougars did well to work back into the contest to cut the deficit to eight by half-time.
Beeliar Boodjar then then took charge in the third quarter with 30 points to 17 with the lead for the home team getting out to as much as nine points in the fourth.
Goldfields weren’t going away, though, and were still able to make things interesting late with it getting back to being a three-point ball game with Michael Dupree dropping a three with just under a minute to play.
However, the Cougars did enough to stay firm and in the dying stages the defensive presence of Pond was significant while he also made some big plays at the offensive end, and then Berry and Alexander iced the win at the foul line.
Benning completed his best weekend of the season for Beeliar Boodjar by producing 22 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocks while shooting 9/18 from the floor.
Alexander also finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and three assists, Hunt 16 points, nine boards and three assists, and Chan 11 points and four assists.
Kaidon Sander also had the best performance of his six-game career with 13 points and nine rebounds with Berry adding nine points and three assists, and Pond six points, five rebounds and two blocks.
Looking back on Saturday night and while it was frustrating to not quite close out a close game again, coach Cooper couldn’t have been more proud of his team’s performance and then even more to hit back to win against the Giants on Sunday.
“It was similar to the rest of our season really where we put ourselves into positions to win and just couldn’t get over the line. We sort of ran out of legs a little bit and fatigue kicked in,” Cooper said.
“But taking all that aside, I’m super proud of the guys’ effort and it was great to see Seva back on court giving some productive minutes. You have to give a shoutout to Kaidon Sander as well who came in and performed really well for us not just Saturday, but backed it up Sunday as well.
“He did a great job for us when Gav went down and I’m just really, really proud of the players and the coaches, and all the effort that they’ve put in so far. With everything that’s been thrown at us, to still put ourselves in those positions is nice to see for sure.”
Cougars import guard Benning had his best weekend of the season and Cooper couldn’t have been happier with what he produced with the combined 52 points, 18 rebounds and six assists.
“Taj was great. He really dug in and his efficiency across the weekend was great,” he said.
“Defensively he never quits and we know that, but offensively he was much better with his shot selection. He’s maturing as a young pro athlete and I think we’re starting to see what he can give us.”
Pond had a significant impact especially in the win against the Giants on Sunday as did Sander while the importance of Chan was highlighted too in his second weekend back.
“The thing with Pondy is that he doesn’t get any smaller as the game goes on. So if you take fatigue away from it all, Pondy’s still a massive guy that can set great screens,” Cooper said.
“Guys like Seva thrive off that and if we can just get him to a fitness level that can get him up and down the floor for longer periods, we’ve known for years that the sky’s the limit for him.
“He just has to get into that shape and unfortunately he’s had some injuries this year as well as have most others. But he was really good for us over the weekend.”