Cockburn Cougars coach Andrew Cooper had a sense his brave side who had been battling the odds might not have had one more big effort alive to keep their NBL1 West season alive, and that’s how it turned out against the South West Slammers.
The Cougars were still clinging to a playoff hope should they win their remaining two matches and if Lakeside wouldn’t win again at the same time, but arriving at Eaton Recreation Centre on Friday night and coach Cooper had a feeling his team might not quite have been up for the fight.
A well short of 100 per cent Gavin Field along with the continued absence of Keegan and Luke Phillips certainly didn’t help the cause of the Cougars, and really for the entire game they were never in the contest.
The Slammers came out on a mission on their home floor scoring the game’s first six points and then leading 11-2. At no point in the entire game were Cockburn able to find a way to get in front with South West continuing to pull away all evening.
With Buay Tuach proving unstoppable, the Slammers would end up leading by 15 points in the second quarter, 19 in the third and 29 in the fourth before settling on the 23-point victory.
It was a night where the Cougars just never got going with the 28 turnovers they coughed up highlighted what a tough evening it was.
Taj Benning finished with 20 points and two rebounds, Courtney Alexander II 19 points, nine boards and four assists, Josh Hunt 13 points and seven rebounds, and Nathan Pond seven points and 13 boards.
Coach Cooper got the feeling pre-game something wasn’t quite right on a cold Friday night in Bunbury.
“I had a good discussion with my coaches before the game and I just picked up a vibe on the players that they were very, very flat,” Cooper said.
“I brought it to their attention prior to the warm up and told them that they need to get themselves up and about because this was a must-win situation.
“Even when the coaches went out and saw them warming up, they still thought they seemed really flat and I think that was summed up when they hit the floor. Bunbury were up and about and they had some energy about them, and the players tried there’s no doubt about it.
“I just think mentally, though, they might have checked out a bit which was still a little bit disappointing because we obviously had everything to play for. It was certainly not the sort of pre-game environment that we want to be in and that translated into the game.”
The Slammers also produced what was likely their most complete performance of the NBL1 West season on Friday night against the Cougars, but Cooper can’t help but reflect on what might have been had they been full strength for that game, but also all season long.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Bunbury because they did a really good job. They scouted us well, Buay Tuach had a really good game and he was in a groove,” Cooper said.
“All their role players did a great job and of course, if we were full strength then things may have been different and I think you can say the same thing about the whole season.
“If we had been, we might have already been locked into the finals, but that’s something we’ve had to deal with most of the season and we just haven’t got the job done when we could have or should have.
“I think we’ve probably left seven games on the table that we should have won over the course of the year which could have given us 14 or 15 games which puts us in a really good position.
“That’s the difference but the season hasn’t been a total write off and it’s not about throwing the baby out with the bath water, but it certainly is a could have, would have, should have kind of season.”