It might not have been a win but it was a vastly improved overall performance from the Cockburn Cougars men on Thursday night with coach Andrew Cooper hoping now that can set the tone for this NBL1 West season.
The 2023 season couldn’t have started in worse fashion for the Cougars men with a 42-point loss at home to the Willetton Tigers with Cooper not mincing his words decrying the lack of effort and intensity from his team, but taking credit as coach at the same time.
Everyone involved took stock coming into the Easter Thursday clash back at Wally Hagan Stadium but the task was a significant one up against the reigning NBL1 West and National Champion Rockingham Flames.
Rockingham had opened the season beating that same Willetton team that thrashed Cockburn in Round 1 on top of a win against the Joondalup Wolves, but all coach Cooper was after was a better effort and more intensity and energy from his team.
He certainly got that and in the end, it was a frustrating defeat because it was a game the Cougars could have won but the Flames fired in the fourth quarter putting up 35 points to prevail 108-101.
However, the signs were encouraging on a number of fronts for the Cougars and Cooper was relieved to see that.
“You definitely can’t say we didn’t try, and the effort and intensity was sort of where we wanted it to be,” Cooper said.
“And to be honest and I’ve said this numerous times the last couple of years, it’s a game that we could have won and certainly put ourselves in a position to win it.
“I think down the stretch we just had some defensive breakdowns and their class took over a little bit in the last quarter, but that’s sort of what you get when you play against Rockingham.
“If you fall asleep for half a dozen possessions it can be the difference between winning and losing. I think that’s what happened in the end.”
It was an improved offensive showing from Cockburn with Gavin Field stepping up for 25 points with seven three-pointers while Courtney Alexander II added 20 points and five rebounds, Josh Hunt 15 points and three boards, Taj Benning 13 points and seven assists, Kieran Berry 11 points, and Seva Chan six points and seven assists.
However, trying to keep a high powered Rockingham team in check was a significant challenge and while reigning MVP Devondrick Walker still had 26 points, Cooper was high on the defensive performance from Benning up against him.
“Taj was great. Apart from some defensive breakdowns, I think Devondrick would even stand up and say himself that he to work for every shot, and had to work pretty hard for the entirety of the 40 minutes,” Cooper said.
“Ryan (Petrik) didn’t put Devondrick on the bench for very long so they certainly knew they were in a game and Taj was good.
“That’s why he was our Player of the Round for more of the fact he was challenged to play against the best player in the league, and someone one of the best players that have been around for the last 10 years or so.”
It was a vastly improved performance in his second game for the club for Alexander too. He had 20 points, five rebounds and two steals in 29 minutes up against Tom Jervis and the bigs of the Flames.
Put into perspective that he had only two training sessions, had been in town for a week and had been sick all day the Friday before the first game, and Cooper feels it was a better indication of what he will provide for the Cougars.
“I think the first game was nowhere near a true reflection of what we can get out of Courtney, but in game two I told him after the game and we both agreed that he has about 40 per cent to give yet,” Cooper said.
“I thin in fairness to him, judge him more after the first four or so weeks which isn’t ideal sometimes because of the length of the season and we don’t have a lot of time to get them acclimatised. But I think after four weeks we’ll get a true reflection of where he’s at.”
Captain Field was another to produce a vastly improved performance on Thursday for the Cougars with 25 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals while nailing 7/13 from three-point territory.
It’s a lot closer to what he’s delivered over his 297-game career and Cooper was glad to see him lead from the front.
“Game one was a write off for everybody, myself included and I don’t think I coached well in that game,” Cooper said.
“The players didn’t play well and it was just a sign of a very disjointed pre-season that we had, not that they are excuses. There was some reason for it though.
“We made it a very strong point of our game plan that Gav was going to get involved early, and he did, and to his credit he knows where to find shots within our system. We saw more of a typical Gav Field on Thursday night.”