The Cockburn Cougars might have suffered two tough losses at home to the Joondalup Wolves on Saturday night, but it wasn’t without plenty of positives including two young men standing up to continue to show coach Andrew Cooper they have NBL potential if they continue their trajectory.
It was always going to be a challenging evening for the Cougars even at home at Wally Hagan Stadium against two tough Joondalup Wolves teams, and that’s how it turned out even though it wasn’t still without positives.
The evening began with the Women’s contest which saw the Wolfpack keep their undefeated streak this season going with the eventual 90-79 victory against the Cougars.
The Men’s match was to follow and it was a tight battle most of the way but in the end the Wolves took out the 100-93 win.
The Cougars now remain at home to host the Perry Lakes Hawks this Friday night as part of the NBL1 First Nations Round.
But going back to Saturday night and starting with the Women’s contest, the Wolfpack arrived to Wally Hagan Stadium putting their undefeated record on the line against a Cougars team with plenty of firepower as evidenced by them hitting 22 threes last week in a 21-point win against the Lakeside Lightning.
The stage was set for a genuine challenge for Joondalup and Cockburn took it right up to them from the outset to end up leading 21-18 by quarter-time.
The Wolfpack then got rolling in the second quarter by going on a 13-0 run to open up their own double-figure advantage and to still be leading 43-38 by the half-time break.
The Cougars were still close enough at the half to cause the upset and still by three quarter-time it was just a six-point ball game in the favour of Joondalup.
Cockburn refused to go away too and when Alina Hartmann knocked down a three ball with two minutes remaining, suddenly it was just a four-point margin once more.
In the end though, it was Kiara Phillips who landed the two killer blows for the Wolfpack. The first saw her drop a three-point bomb with 30 seconds left. She then closed the game with an offensive rebound and the put back.
That saw the Wolves win 90-79 to improve to a perfect 14-0 record on the season while the Cougars slipped to 7-5 having suffered their first home loss of 2022.
Jewel Williams continued her impressive form as point guard for Cockburn with another 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds while hitting 4/10 from three-point range.
Jessie Edwards added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Cougars, Kat Tudor 16 points and four boards, Alina Hartmann 12 points and six rebounds, and Haylee De Sousa seven points and six boards.
The Men’s clash followed with Cockburn playing host to Joondalup at Wally Hagan Stadium with the Wolves coming into the game at fourth spot at 10-3 with the Cougars fifth at 8-5 so there was plenty on the line.
The Cougars got off to a flying start and scored 10 straight points in the first quarter to lead by as much as 12 and still 22-13 by quarter-time.
The Wolves did work their way back into the contest in the second period going on their own 11-0 run to end up putting up 38 points to 25 in the quarter to go into half-time leading 51-47.
While Joondalup opened up a 13-point lead in the third quarter, Cockburn fired back with Carter Skaggs knocking down some big shots and it set up a thrilling finish with plenty on the line.
Cockburn tied scores up with five minutes to go thanks to a Nathan Pond offensive rebound and putback before another three-point bomb from Skaggs put them up 89-86 with four minutes to play.
Seva Chan stretched the lead to five soon after with a layup, but jumpers to Turnage and Maris Colton soon had the Wolves back level.
Turnage was just warming up and the biggest play of the night was when he wasn’t boxed out and grabbed an offensive rebound for the easy putback.
That took him to 37 points on the night to put Joondalup back in front and then with under a minute left, he went to 40 points by knocking down a three-point bomb that proved the sealer in the eventual 100-93 victory.
Carter Skaggs top-scored for Cockburn with 23 points while hitting 6/17 from three-point range with Josh Hunt contributing 19 points and six rebounds.
Seva Chan added 13 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals, Gavin Field 11 points, three assists, two steals and two blocks, Luke Phillips 10 points and four boards, and Paschal Chukwu four points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Cougars coach Andrew Cooper was frustrated at another chance of a crucial victory that got away.
“It was very similar to last time we played them but also very similar to about five other games that we’ve lost this year where we’ve put ourselves in really good positions to win, but just haven’t been able to close them out,” Cooper said.
“Obviously we ran into a red hot Turnage as well on Saturday but not to discredit him, we didn’t adjust well enough defensively and he made big plays when it mattered. And we made mistakes when it counted and that was probably the difference in the end.”
Now that the Cougars have dropped another tight game that is making it challenging to stay in the race for a top four position, he is looking for answers in the back end of the season but would never doubt the ability or character of his group.
“That’s the million dollar question and I’ve spoken to a few people about it, but again the last time we played Joondalup when we came back the following day to beat Geraldton,” Cooper said.
“That was a credit to the playing group and we can make excuses as much as we want in terms of being a young group, but at the end of the day the mistakes aren’t necessarily being made by the young people.
“We just need to focus on what we need to do best under pressure and deal with that at training, and put ourselves in those position so we can hopefully deal with it better in games.”
Josh Hunt had an impressive outing on Saturday night for Cockburn as he continued what is the most consistent season of his career that has now spanned 59 matches already across Geraldton, Mandurah and now Cockburn.
Cooper has known him a long time and has no doubt that he remains on track to reach his potential should he continue to work on playing hard all the time at both ends of the floor.
“Josh is a kid that I’ve been around since I think he was 12 or 13 when I coached him in a country team and I had some tough conversations with Josh back then about having to play at a certain level of intensity,” Cooper said.
“I had the same conversation with him when he came to Cockburn and I think for him to get to the next level, which he wants to do at the NBL level and I definitely think he has the ability, but also has to have that intensity level at both ends of the floor.
“That’s something that we’ve been working on with him that he has to stay switched on defensively and be able to make plays at both ends. He did a really good job in the second half on Abrom a couple of weeks ago against Mandurah and he made some big plays on the weekend as well.
“We know what he can do offensively and that he can be an explosive scorer, but he’s also doing a really good job at trying to lock in more defensively. He’s quite happy to take on those tougher roles against those big time players and I have a lot of faith in Josh.
“He’s in the sort of position in our league where teams will recruit over but he’s pretty safe within our group and there’s no thoughts of recruiting over him that’s for sure.”
Another player with untapped potential at the Cougars is Luke Phillips. He only arrived at Cockburn a month ago to join his brother Keegan and he has made an immediate impact.
A big man who can shoot immediately makes him a hot commodity and already Cooper couldn’t be more impressed with what he’s providing especially in the void left with the absence of Jaarod Holmes at the moment in the front court.
“To be honest, I didn’t know who Luke Phillips was from a bar of soap when my assistant Damian Barr told me he might be available,” Cooper said.
“Keegan is obviously with us and he’s a valued young player coming through as well so when Damian told me about Luke and I was able to look at some film, he caught my eye straight away. He’s a 6’9 or 6’10 guy who can shoot it which suits our system and style of play.
“Damian said he was a good character kid so I spoke to Luke and he had some offers over in South Australia, but he was pretty keen just to play. He’s been great for us and has been really good on the floor and off the floor.
“He’s willing to learn and he’s been doing some work with Andy Stewart and Andy thinks he is a fantastic young man with a lot of potential with a good skill set. I think he can have a huge career in NBL1 but he could even knock on the door for a potential DP spot or something moving forward in the NBL because his skill set is something that transitions to the next level.”