BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE The North-West Thunder are finally back home and eager to turn its Ulverstone stadium into an NBL1 fortress that opposition teams struggle to invade.
After a healthy opening-round win on March 30, the Thunder have been on the road since, including a home game in Launceston, but return back to base with an encouraging 4-3 record.
Saturday night sees them take on a quality Dandenong outfit, with coach Sam Armstrong challenging his group to get better on defence to help relieve the pressure on an offence which has stepped up to the mark on most occasions this season.
“Everyone is keen to be playing back at home and as beneficial as it has been to get a heap of road games out of the way, it is nice for the guys to get back into a familiar environment and have some support on our side for a change,” Armstrong said.
“But starting on Saturday we’ve got to ensure we can play a high-quality brand of basketball on our own floor and make it a bit of a fortress.
“To do that and to challenge Dandenong, we’re going to have to get a whole lot better on defence because the fact is that while we averaging close to 95 points per game on offence, we are giving up roughly the same amount at the other end and that’s way too high in this league.”
Armstrong believes his team’s issues centre around the mental aspects of the game.
“It’s not so much a structural thing – we’ve got plans in place – it’s the execution of it and getting the fundamental things right,” he said.
“It’s about concentrating on things for longer periods of time more so than anything – if you take one defensive possession off in this league you will get hurt.
“We have to make sure we are locked into every defensive possession to try and get a bit more of offence generated from it instead of having to grind out 100 points.
“Our strength as a team is getting out on the floor and running, but we can’t do that if we are taking the ball out of the net consistently on defence.”
Fortunately for Armstrong, his offence has been able to cover up plenty of the defensive deficiencies thanks to an even contribution from the starting group that sees five players averaging double-figure points each outing, led by Tre Armstrong’s 18.8 points per game.
That includes import Nick Banyard who is starting to make a mark on the league after hauls of 27 and 26 points on last weekend’s road trip.
“I think most coaches would be happy if they can get 4-5 guys in double figures every week,” Armstrong said.
“That’s exactly where we need to be and means everyone on the floor is a threat at some stage.
“We don’t rely on one guy to have a big night and if someone is having an off night, it means we have others to pick up the slack.
“Last weekend I thought Nick took some massive steps forward.
“He established himself inside and realised with his size and athleticism that he can be a real handful in this league.”
The Thunder are expected to be at full strength for the clash with the Rangers, with Lachlan Dent’s absence from Penguin’s NWBU game on Tuesday night a precaution.
“Lachlan took a really heavy knock late in the game against Eltham on Sunday and was displaying some mild concussion symptoms but he’ll be right to go on Saturday night,” Armstrong said.
“Dandenong are potent in every position and have some very athletic guys who can play in multiple spots – it could be a high-tempo game as both teams like to push the ball – but it will come to which team can get the job done at both ends of the court.
Saturday night’s game at Ulverstone tips off at 8pm as part of a double-header with the Launceston Tornadoes, who take on the Rangers’ women’s team at 6pm.