Veteran forward Martin Cattalini inspired the Perth Wildcats to one of the best come-from-behind victories of the NBL season, upsetting championship favourites New Zealand 106-100 in Auckland on Thursday night.
With his team trailing by 18 points during the third quarter and 10 at three-quarter time, Cattalini launched a one-man rescue mission to sink the Breakers on their home court.
Cattalini sat on the bench for much of the night and had just one point to his name before three-quarter time, but burst into action with devastating effect to drag his side over the line with 17 points in the final term.
The Wildcats hit the front with three minutes remaining and endured a see-sawing final period before Kevin Lisch and Jesse Wagstaff iced the game with a pair of free-throws each in the dying seconds.
Perth outscored their opponents 38-22 in the final period, registering the highest last-quarter score of any team this season in the process.
It was sweet revenge for the Wildcats, who were comfortably beaten by the Breakers in an Auckland scrap earlier this season and were winless in their past four trips across the Tasman.
Perth coach Rob Beveridge said Cattalini’s experience paid dividends when the game was on the line.
“Cattalini’s a veteran of the league, he showed why we’ve got him in the team and it was an unbelievable performance,” Beveridge said.
“If you take him out we’re the youngest team in the league and that experience down the stretch was important for him.
“We left him out there and he was feeling good tonight so it was important to just keep trying to get him the ball.”
The Wildcats conceded plenty of outside looks early but went largely un-punished until John Rillie nailed consecutive three-pointers either side of quarter-time to open up a 30-23 lead for the Breakers.
New Zealand took an eight-point advantage into the main break after a tight second quarter, and the third term again proved a difficult one for the Wildcats as the game started slipping away.
Only Cattalini’s standout performance in the final quarter saved the Wildcats from a fifth defeat in six away games this season.
“Some of the shots Cattalini made were tough and they made some tough threes over our hands that you’ve just got to live with,” New Zealand coach Andrej Lemanis said.
“But it’s little plays and little things in games like this that make a difference and we’ve got to find a way to get it done.”
Luke Schenscher, the star of Perth’s win over Townsville last week, conceded four turnovers in the first quarter but recovered to finish as one of five Wildcats in double figures with 12 points.
Kevin Lisch nailed 17 points and Jesse Wagstaff came off the bench to score 15 in another promising display.
Breakers guard Kirk Penney scored a game-high 29 points and was well supported by CJ Bruton (19) and Rick Rickert (14).
New recruit Galen Young is still awaiting his clearance and is unlikely to make his first appearance in Wildcats colours in Saturday night’s top-of-the-table clash with Wollongong on the road.
An Emirates pilot has been stood down after refusing an alcohol and drug test less than an hour before he was due to captain a flight from Perth to Dubai.