Now it's make or Breakers
THIS is D-Day for our basketballers.
Over the weekend the Ballina Breakers men and Lismore Storm ladies face the powerhouse Coffs Harbour Suns with top-spot in their respective NSW State Basketball League northern divisions on the line.
After six months of basketball, both the Breakers and Storm face a very similar predicament – win against the Suns this weekend and earn a home final, or lose and travel south to take on the best from the southern division.
BALLINA’S men won’t be laying out the red carpet for their southern foes ahead of their clash at Southern Cross K-12 School tonight.
In fact, the opposite, this is a clash of David and Goliath, and David never intended to make life easy for his enemy.
The Suns are a basketball powerhouse – the largest country basketball association in the State – that has been around for more than a decade and plays in a 350-seat stadium.
The Breakers, though, are a second-year team with a playing base of around 100 players and plays home games on a school basketball court.
If that wasn’t enough motivation for Ballina – what about their head-to-head history with the Suns.
In two meetings this season the Breakers have put themselves in a winning position with seconds on the clock – and in both meeting’s Suns sharp-shooter Robbie Linton has nailed a long-distance three-pointer to steal the game.
And Linton is only the start of the problem.
The Suns also boast two-time NBL premiership winner Matt Shanahan, who dropped 28 points on the Breakers last time, as well State Basketball League top-five scorer Mitch Cole.
But in their corner the Breakers have their own fountain of points.
The league’s leading scorer, 19-year-old James Whitby, returns from a knee injury he suffered in a rugby league match to go head-to-head with Shanahan.
“Shanahan went off last time,” Whitby said.
“But this time it’s my go.”
The teenager, who doubles as a winger for Marist Brothers in the NRRRL, now knows where his priorities lie.
“This is our biggest game of the year, all hands on deck,” he said.
“And I think I will give the footy a miss until the basketball is finished.”
That has to please the coach!
Tip-off is at 6:45pm.
The Breakers women open the night against the Suns at 5pm.
MICK Willemsen’s Storm women have hit the front of their division and the hunter has become the hunted.
The Storm surged to the top of the northern division when an under-strength side won back-to-back games on the road two weeks ago – and that was without 2009 league MVP Tami Willey.
Now the ball is in the Suns’ court to steal back top spot.
Two meetings between the sides this season have seen each take a game – each by 20-plus points.
And although the clash tomorrow morning promises to be much tighter Willemsen is supremely confident.
“We are full-strength and ready to go,” he said.
“Coffs are a perennial strong team, but on our home court I am confident.”
Making the job difficult for the visitors will be their preparation for the big game – the 11am tip-off comes on the back of a game against the Ballina Breakers women tonight.
“That could play into our hands,” Willemsen said. “We like to push the ball up court, and we will have fresh legs.”
When asked if he had contacted Ballina women’s coach Jason Bashforth in a bid to ensure his girls softened the southerners up the night before, Willemsen replied tongue-in-cheek.
“I don’t even need to ask him that,” he said.
“That’ll be on his agenda.”
The Storm v Suns match is at Lismore Basketball Stadium from 11am tomorrow.