Cougars cap memorable SBL season with third championship
THE Cockburn Cougars are the Men's SBL champions for a third time following a powerful 2016 Grand Final performance beating the defending champion Joondalup Wolves 96-84 at Bendat Basketball Centre on Saturday night.
The Lapa Brazilian BBQ Restaurant Cockburn Cougars got out to a 10-4 lead early in the game and never trailed following the opening minute. They went on to defeat the Merriwa Tavern & Bistro Joondalup City Wolves 96-84 in the 2016 decider.
The win for the Cougars gives them three SBL championships having previously won in 1992 and 2012. The Wolves were unable to win back-to-back titles for the first time in club history in their fourth Grand Final appearance in six years.
It was a night to remember for the Cougars veterans with Rhett Della and Daniel Thomas marking their returns to Cockburn in 2016 with their first Grand Final appearance and a championship.
They were significant contributors too with Della even taking out the Grand Final MVP honour after 18 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
To top it off, he proposed and received a yes from his now fiancée Shannon after the final buzzer.
Cougars coach Matt Parsons couldn’t have been happier for Della or for the result of recruiting him back to Cockburn this year.
"He deserves this. He's not blessed with the biggest skill set and we all know this, but he has a ticker the size of Phar Lap's. He is a real workhorse and he doesn’t do anything pretty, but he just does everything hard," Parsons said.
"He deserves all the happiness and success that he's got and I'm really proud of him. The biggest fist pump I left in the pre-season in my recruiting mission was saved for when I signed him and he has proven why he is such a valuable asset to us."
Thomas also finished with six points and four assists while it was a second championship for Sheldon McIntyre with the Cougars just weeks after celebrating his 200th SBL appearance. He ended up with 13 points, nine boards, four assists and three blocks on shooting 6-of-8 from the field.
Cockburn imports Marcus Goode and Najee Lane have been outstanding all season as well and continued that in the Grand Final. Big man Goode had 23 points and 15 rebounds and swingman Lane 24 points and 13 boards.
Julian Pesava also added eight points and five rebounds before embarking on his college career at Wayland Baptist University.
The Wolves never surrendered in attempting to win back-to-back titles and despite poor shooting first halves from stars Seb Salinas and Trian Iliadis, the pair gave the Wolfpack a sniff in the second half.
Captain Salinas ended up with 14 points on the back of four threes while last year's Grand Final MVP Iliadis had 14 points and five boards.
Import centre Kevin Davis tried valiantly with 20 points, 14 rebounds and six emphatic blocked shots, with night highlighted by two thunderous dunks.
Rob Huntington added 15 points and six rebounds in his 150th game for Joondalup with Reece Maxwell contributing 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, and Damian Matacz eight points.
Davis got the game's scoring underway inside for the Wolves but it was the number of options the Cougars had that has been their strength all year, and it became apparent again. Lane, Della, McIntyre, Steven Van Lit and Goode all started and shared their opening 10 points as they led 10-4.
A couple of baskets for the Wolfpack to 150-gamer Huntington and then a three to Maxwell kept the Wolves in touch, but the Cougars were feeling it and were playing at another level.
McIntyre continued to spark Cockburn and by the time he made consecutives baskets, his team was well on top leading 18-9.
The Cougars remained in control at quarter-time leading 26-17 and it was on the back of old heads McIntyre and Della combining for 16 of those.
While it was McIntyre and Della on fire in the first period, it was then time for Lane and Goode to take over in the second and the import pair combined for 17 points alone in the second period.
The Wolves managed just 2-of-17 from three in the first half with Iliadis and Salinas going 1-of-11. The Cougars were well on top leading 51-36 at half-time despite a buzzer-beating tip-in by Davis for the Wolfpack.
Salinas was never going to let the Wolves go down without a fight and he signalled his intentions immediately with two threes in the opening minute of the second half to bring his team within 11.
But by the time he hit another three a couple of minutes later, the margin was again only 11 with the Cougars responding well with Goode, Lane, Van Lit and Della all scoring – with Della proving particularly effective with his crafty moves to and around the basket.
As much as the Wolves continued to fight and Iliadis did have an individual 5-0 run and Huntington hit another three before three quarter-time, Cockburn remained firm and led by 11 heading into the fourth.
The Wolves threatened a comeback several times during the fourth quarter with Iliadis, Maxwell and Salinas all nailing triples, and Davis throwing down a monster two-handed reverse jam but they could never get closer than eight points.
The Cougars had all the answers with McIntyre nailing a dagger three and Lane, Goode and Della just continued to score to keep the lead in double-figures as they ended up winning by 12 to secure the 2016 championship.
Parsons couldn’t hide his excitement over the championship afterwards and for all the players involved.
"This is an amazing feeling. I cannot describe how I feel at the moment, it's a really unique experience and I'm so grateful to those boys," Parsons said.
"Not only to the 12 who hit the floor but the extended squad. All year we pushed for this and we had this one dream, and together we achieved it and it's an unbelievable."
Wolves coach Ben Ettridge didn’t get the prize he was after before heading to Rio to lead the Australian Rollers into the Paralympics, and it was the slow start that meant the Wolfpack's job was always an uphill battle.
"Once they got that jump on us, all credit to Cockburn. They made the big shots and every time we hit them with a left hook they came back and hit us with a right hook. They were great and one through 12 they all contributed and it's a credit to them. They are deserved winners," Ettridge said.
"I think it just hurts because we didn’t play our basketball. We set a pretty high standard and we were way off the mark early at both ends of the floor.
"I thought we had a bit of a glimpse there at the end of the third and start of the fourth, but they answered and all credit to them for their counter punches."
MEN'S SBL GRAND FINAL 2016
Lapa Brazilian BBQ Restaurant Cockburn Cougars 96 (Lane 24, Goode 23, Della 18)
Merriwa Tavern & Bistro Joondalup City Wolves 84 (Davis 20, Huntington 15, Salinas 14, Iliadis 14)
Grand Final MVP – Rhett Della (Cockburn Cougars)