The Perth Wildcats celebrated the return of club legends to end the regular season with a confidence-boosting 99-94 win over the New Zealand Breakers at Challenge Stadium.
The win ends a three game losing streak for the Wildcats, which caused them to lose the opportunity of finishing second on the NBL ladder. They now finish third and will host their first play-off match next Saturday night.
It was an emotional day for the Wildcats, with club legend Ricky Grace having his number retired in a touching ceremony in honour of both Grace and the club’s 25-year anniversary.
Grace, along with fellow former Wildcats greats, also took part in a legends game to kick off proceedings, which the full Challenge Stadium couldn’t get enough of and fired them up to see their stars of today.
In the lead up to the play-offs next weekend, captain Paul Rogers was rested due to a slight hamstring problem, with Damien Ryan starting his first game. Playing centre, Tony Ronaldson put the team on his back, with 17 points in the first half.
Ronaldson nailed three from long range and shot 6-10 from the field, also handing out five assists. Shawn Redhage also had 20 points, Darren Brooks 15 and Ryan 14. The return of Ronaldson’s shooting touch will be particularly crucial in the play-offs.
Olson had 11 first-quarter points but only finished with 19 for the Breakers, while centre Ben Pepper made the most of the absence of Rogers, collecting 12 rebounds to go with his 25 points. League leading score Carlos Powell finished his stint with the Breakers scoring 27 points.
It looked as though the tough three losses on the road and emotion of the day was getting the better of the Wildcats early, with Aaron Olson’s 11 points leading the Breakers to a 17-9 lead.
However, with Ronaldson adding 12 of his own, the Wildcats led 37-33 by the end of the quarter.
Perth appeared in control during the second quarter, opening up a 51-39 lead. However, with Rogers missing, Pepper controlled the inside and Powell caught fire.
New Zealand scored the last 10 points of the half to see the teams tied 55 at the main break.
The third quarter was another even tussle, with the Wildcats taking just a four-point lead into the final quarter.
Scores were tied at 94 with just two-minutes remaining and momentum was with the Breakers, however, the Wildcats scored the final five points to secure the hard fought win.
The Wildcats now face the winner of the knock-out clash between Cairns and the South Dragons on Wednesday, hosting the winner next Saturday night at Challenge Stadium.