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Round 8 Cougars Wrap – Men

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Being in the middle of four straight double-headers and dealing with injuries and player availability are combining to create challenges for the Cockburn Cougars men, but Matt Clifford and Charlie Dimmock provided positives in NBL1 West Round 8.

The Cougars came into a third straight double-header weekend with veteran point guards Kyle Armour and Seva Chan both unavailable for the road clash with the East Perth Eagles on Friday night, and then Hunter Clarke reinjuring his ankle in that first half.

That took out the three first choice point guards for the Cougars with several other players also toughing it out to continue playing while less than 100 per cent with the Eagles ending up winning 109-95.

Rhys Vague stepped up to hit 6/11 from downtown for 29 points, 10 rebounds and three assists while Josh Hunt shook off last week’s ankle injury for 26 points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds.

Gavin Field also had 12 points and four assists for Cockburn, Demetris Morant eight points, four rebounds and three assists, and Will Yarran eight points, four boards and three assists.

That led into a return home for the Cougars to host the Warwick Senators on Saturday and while Chan returned earlier than anticipated, Cockburn was still without Armour with Clarke joining him on the sidelines too.

Cockburn has now lost five straight matches to be sitting on a 3-8 record with 328-game captain Field top-scoring with 13 points and two steals while Chan returned with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists in 18 minutes.

Charlie Dimmock, Will Yarran and Noah Stewart all scored seven points as well for Cockburn Josh Hunt and Vague only combined for 12 points on 4/17 shooting.

Cougars coach Mark Clayden was especially impressed with the way Matt Clifford is taking on the responsibility thrown on him to be the starting point guard and is finding positives despite the tough situation at present.

“It is tough at the moment and we’re managing workloads, managing personnel and we knew we took some risks at the start of the year with a couple of injuries,” Clayden said.

“But we didn’t expect them to all hit at once and thought we had some good depth to allow everyone to get 100 per cent. That’s what the beautiful thing was about bringing in Kyle late so we had three point guards and could rotate between the three of them.

“We didn’t expect all three to be unavailable at the same time or having to play hurt but it is what it is. Matty Clifford has shown a lot of resilience and I’m glad for him personally and he’s doing a hell of a job defensively while doing what he needs to do to run the team.

“So we’re happy with what he’s stepping up to do and we are asking a lot of other guys, but we just don’t have the talent or experience to match some of these teams. That’s just the reality at the moment.”

Clayden is realistic about the situation his team finds themselves in after a third of four weeks straight of double-headers, but is pulling out some positives that will help the Cougars in the future especially.

“We’ve gone from playing the least games in the league to the most over the last few weeks and it couldn’t have fallen at a worse time for us really,” Clayden said.

“The immediate thinking is that this is really tough at the moment and we just have to keep the guys positive, there’s no point ranting or raving. We’ve got guys who are playing roles that they probably didn’t expect to but we keep using the word opportunity and making sure they keep learning.

“That’s the positive that long-term for us it’s great for what we are trying to do with a three-year plan that we came into this year with.

“We’ve got guys who are getting opportunities now as we plan for next year so we will have a good idea of which of our Champ Men are going to be able to have an impact moving forward.”

There was another debutant for the Cougars on Saturday night as well in the form of Austin Crowe-St Jack who even knocked down a three-pointer in his 10 minutes of court time.

“Because of what Aussie did in the Champ Men game, he got the chance to suit up for his first NBL1 game,” Clayden said.

“I’m not sure the Warwick supporters understood why we were cheering so loudly, but that was a great moment when he made that three and he’s just a great kid.

“He epitomises everything we’re trying to do and has come from the country, he got belted around in his first in WABL and had no idea what he was doing.

“But he made a state team and it was a big whirlwind for him for 18 months, but he just works his butt off and we hope there’s big things for him going forward.”

Teenage big man Charlie Dimmock is another who showed encouraging signs with the way he responded from a tough Friday night up against David Okwera, Lee Roberts and Sebit Reath to challenge himself against former NBL import Todd Withers on Saturday.

“Chuck is the other one and he was benched for four weeks but has been playing really well at Champ Men level and I saw there was an opportunity to get him in there,” Clayden said.

“We were struggling so just told him to go out and do what he has been doing, and we played with two bigs for the first time which is something we had been talking about. When we were 20 you’re willing to try some things and I thought he and Pondy were great together.

“He played the most minutes of our three bigs in the end and he’ll learn a lot from that experience. To play from a guy like Withers, it will only help him and we did put him out on Friday night against Roberts and Okwera, and you could see he was intimidated.

“We talked to him on Saturday morning telling him to just back himself and play with youth and enthusiasm, and don’t worry about what happens because he has just turned 18 and it’s all a learning experience.

“Then on the first three plays against Warwick he just ran and jumped at the ball, and that’s exactly what we wanted to see.”

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