“MAKE them play in the chaos” is the mantra for the Joondalup Wolves’ tilt at back-to-back State Basketball League titles.
The Wolves were the dominant favourites heading into last year’s grand final triumph over South West, but this season a thriller against the Cockburn Cougars beckons at Bendat Basketball Centre on Saturday.
The Cougars finished the season at No. 1, the Wolves at No. 2 and the teams are at 1-1 in games against each other.
The potential for a gripping conclusion is great, but such expectation matters little to Wolves coach Ben Ettridge.
Ettridge emphasised the side’s mindset remained the same for any grand final situation – whether they’re heavy favourites like last year or in the tight scenario they’ve found themselves in 2016.
“Our mindset doesn’t change, we expect to be here at this time of year,” he said.
The two-time championship mentor described his side’s will “to make them play in the chaos”, an approach that aims to force the ball into the hands of the Cougars’ poorer handlers.
He was under no illusion Cockburn would make it easy for his charges to execute that plan, but felt the Wolves matched up particularly well against the south-of-the-river contingent.
“It’s building pressure from the moment the ball comes inbound,” he said.
“The guys who are a bit inexperienced or have a few turnovers… making them make decisions in the last five or six seconds of a shot clock.”
The rebound count would also be key, with Ettridge highlighting a correlation between the team’s best rebounding games and their better victories.
The Wolves were pushed to three games in the semi-final series against Willetton, to which the coach took a double-sided view.
On one hand, it would have been impressive to sweep the series on the way to the grand final.
But on the other, the 128-99 loss in game two exposed weaknesses the team needed to address.
The Wolves recovered to win game three 120-95.
“We’ve now seen what we’ve always thought teams should do against us,” he said.
“Willetton came out and did it and we weren’t quite ready for it.
“But then to turnaround 24 hours later and rip the guts out of it we were pretty pleased.”
The Wolves head into their fourth grand final in six seasons as the most dominant club of the decade.
Joondalup is the only team to have won multiple championships in the 2010s with titles in 2011 and 2015, but a lost flag in 2013 remains a sore point.
Six players – Seb Salinas, Trian Iliadis, Damian Matacz, Rob Huntington, Rhys Smyth and Reece Maxwell – remain from that side, which was edged out by three points against the Lakeside Lightning three years ago.
Of that group, only Smyth and Maxwell missed the opportunity for redemption in last year’s grand final triumph.
Now their time has come.
Ettridge was particularly impressed with the finals series of Maxwell, who returned to his best form after a year of football in the WAFL reserves with Claremont.
“Reece Maxwell has taken his game to another level… he’s not scared of the bright lights of the big stage that kid,” he said.