BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE A road trip of a different kind awaits an undermanned North-West Thunder this weekend as they try to stay in contention for the NBL1 finals.
Sam Armstrong’s team, which sits in 11th spot with a 6-7 record, begins its journey in Geelong on Friday night with a tough match-up against the third-placed Supercats.
The Thunder then head back to the airport on Saturday morning and fly home for an encounter with 13th-placed Knox at Ulverstone’s OBC Stadium later that night as part of a double-header with the Launceston Tornadoes.
With every one of the final seven games vital to keep in touch with the top eight, Armstrong’s hopes of having a full compliment of players available have been dashed with Reyne Smith unavailable due to a national under 17 selection camp in Canberra and captain Joe Chilcott to miss the game against the Raiders due to a pre-arranged family holiday.
“It makes things a bit difficult because just as we picked up some rhythm with guys understanding their roles they get taken out of the rotation, for good reasons of course,” Armstrong said.
“This weekend will be a case of next man up and that’s how we have been all season.
“Someone else will get an opportunity and they will come at the game from a different angle.
“We just need to find ways to win this weekend – that will be the biggest thing – especially against Geelong.”
The Thunder and Supercats have already met earlier this month, with Geelong scoring an impressive 94-85 win on the road thanks to a haul of 39 points from import DeMarcus Gatlin.
While guarding Gatlin better will be a focus, Armstrong said his team needs to improve its overall defence from the June 1 encounter..
“Gatlin is one of their biggest strengths but we didn’t execute how we wanted to on defence at all in that game,” he said.
“We need to revisit those plans but also know we need to go another level again on Geelong’s home court in front of a big crowd.”
The Raiders arrive on Saturday night with former NBL superstar Darryl McDonald as their coach and a even spread of scorers that belie a 5-8 record.
“They have just recruited another import who has come in over the past few weeks and given them a really athletic front court,” Armstrong said.
“They are a capable team who have been in a lot of games over the season but just fallen short in the final five minutes, so we’ll be treating them the same as what we are treating Geelong.
“Last week against Hobart we stripped our game back to the fundamentals at either end of the court and that held us in good stead.
“Nothing will change this weekend.”
Saturday night’s game starts at 8pm, with the Tornadoes tipping off against Knox at 6pm.
In other NBL1 news, talented North-West junior Zoe Crawford will get a chance to show her wares this weekend when she lines up for the Basketball Australia Centre of Excellence team.