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Round 4 NBL1 West Recap – Positive signs from fight shown in Rockingham

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The start to the game in Rockingham for the Cockburn Cougars on Friday night could have scarcely been worse. However, from there they did well against the reigning NBL1 West and National Champions with coach Andrew Cooper hoping they can now build on that fight.

The Cougars came into Friday night’s game having lost their opening four matches of the NBL1 West season with the daunting task of having to take on a rampant reigning champion Flames who were undefeated, and likely a better and more lethal unit than they had in 2022.

The game then couldn’t have started worse for Cockburn with Rockingham racing to a 15-2 lead in just over the opening five minutes before ending up leading 36-11 by quarter-time.

It was going to be unlikely for the Cougars to win the game from that point, but what they did produce over the last three quarters is something that coach Cooper now hopes they can build on moving forward after the tough first month of the season.

“In the first quarter we definitely had opportunities and the gap didn’t need to be that far apart had we made some shots,” Cooper said.

“We had some really good looks from three, we missed some layups and we missed some foul shots. You probably could have closed that margin a fair bit by about 10 or 15 points had we just made some shots early, but it wasn’t like we were lacking effort or intensity.

“I did use two timeouts in that first quarter purely because it was a momentum thing and not because I was upset with our effort or intensity.”

Over the last three quarters, Cockburn did outscore Rockingham 74 points to 71 including being especially impressive in the second and third quarters with 57 points to 45.

While never happy to lose a game, the signs were encouraging particularly Luke Phillips delivering 22 points and five rebounds, Courtney Alexander II 14 points and 14 boards, Kieran Berry 14 points, and Keegan Phillips nine points, five assists and four rebounds.

Cooper liked the positive signs and just hopes more players jump on board moving forward after Josh Hunt (six points, two rebounds), Taj Benning (six points, five rebounds), Seva Chan (five points, three assists) and Gavin Field (five points, two boards) had tough nights.

“Rockingham might have gone to their bench a little earlier than might have been expected and maybe they were feeling pretty confident with where they were at, and our guys that came in made them pay a little for that,” Cooper said.

“They had to adjust but it didn’t change the way our guys played even when they brought their starters back in. We kept working hard and Luke Phillips hasn’t been happy with his form.

“He made a very conscious decision to be better and he was, and he was outstanding at both ends of the floor. Keegan was great and the second group were really good. I was really proud of what they put out and that has sort of been the case for most of the season.

“On paper, I think Rockingham are probably a 20-point better team than us and over those last three quarters we outscored them so we’re certainly not upset with the way we performed after that start anyway.”

Luke Phillips burst onto the scene in spectacular fashion last season for the Cougars after finishing college at the University of Louisiana, but hadn’t had the start to the 2023 campaign he wanted.

He took on the responsibility for that and responded in a fashion Cooper never doubted he could on Friday night.

“He has been a product of our pre-season too like we’ve talked about it with a few of the guys with a bit of disruption,” he said.

“Last year he came to us straight out of college so he was already firing and ready to go, but 100 per cent no doubt the kid can play. He is one of the most intelligent guys you’ll ever meet and also one of the best human young men that you’ll meet.

“We are lucky that we’ve got him and he’s a very big part of our program moving forward. I’m really impressed with the way he’s tracking and if he wanted to potentially play at the next level, then there would be opportunities moving forward for him if that was his priority. But I’m not sure if it is at the moment.”

It’s hard to ignore the fact of just how good Friday night’s opponents are this NBL1 West season. On the back of winning last year’s National Championship, Rockingham has added import Jeremy Combs to a team still featuring Devondrick Walker, Marshall Nelson, Tom Jervis and Ryan Godfrey.

It’s quite the formidable line-up led by WNBL Coach of the Year Ryan Petrik and Cooper is realistic enough to know that the Cougars were up against it just purely from a talent and experience perspective.

However, he now hopes that his players can take heart from what they did over the last three quarters now moving forward.

“When you come up against Rockingham right now, it’s like you are taking on a Ferrari with a Commodore. They’re in a different ball park to us in so many different areas and even just outside the playing side of it,” Cooper said.

“When you look at their big three who put up the numbers that they did, you get what you pay for and our guys are still working into that from their side of things.

“By adding Combs in this year, of course they’ve got better and Ryan has said that himself so it’s Ferrari versus Commodore when you come back to our situation at Cockburn.

“But that’s where I was really proud of what we did in those three quarters because we got back to the Cockburn basketball of needing to be tougher because that’s us.

“We don’t necessarily have the pure talent to blow teams off the court and we have to work for it every single time. We showed that we can do that and hopefully that can put us in the right direction moving forward.”

Starting the season losing the opening five matches is obviously far from ideal, but the reality is two of the losses have been against the rampant Rockingham while the Cougars have also copped the hugely talented and experienced Willetton and Geraldton.

The loss to Lakeside was a game they had in their control for three and-a-half quarters too ahead of another chance against the Lightning at Wally Hagan Stadium this Saturday night.

“Obviously 0-5 looks bad but at the same time it’s not as dire a situation as a lot of people probably think,” Cooper said.

“We lost nine games last year and finished fourth so our view right now is let’s win enough games to finish in the top eight and then go from there. We’re still confident that when we get it right we’re a good team, and we’ll be capable of taking it up with anybody.”

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