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Cotton-less Wildcats too good for 36ers

The Perth Wildcats overcame the absence of superstar Bryce Cotton and a brutal schedule to keep alive their push for top spot on the NBL ladder after grinding out a 76-68 win over the Adelaide 36ers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

The second-placed Wildcats, playing their sixth game in 11 days, seldom hit any dizzying heights on Sunday but led at every change and moved to a 24-9 record, applying pressure on ladder-leading Melbourne United (24-7).

“It was a grind. Without a question it wasn’t a highlight film,” Perth coach Trevor Gleeson said.

“I was really happy with our defence.

“To hold a team like Adelaide to under 20 points in every quarter was outstanding.”

Mitch Norton (19 points) admirably filled the breach left by the absence of MVP favourite Cotton (groin injury) and was superb in the clutch, single-handedly outscoring the Sixers 7-4 in the final two minutes while import John Mooney (15 points, 12 boards) spearheaded the Wildcats’ rebounding dominance (48-36).

Daniel Johnson (13 points) top-scored for the 36ers, who had five players in double-digits but nobody able to take control as they suffered their fourth successive defeat.

“It comes down to a possession game – it’s been that way all year,” Adelaide coach Conner Henry lamented.

“They had 18 offensive rebounds and we had 17 turnovers.

“That’s been our trouble all year.”

Sixth man Jack McVeigh sparked the 36ers after being injected into the fray early but Perth did enough to lead 22-18 at quarter-time.

Adelaide connected on 20 per cent of their first-half three-pointers but their perimeter preoccupation hurt them – 25 of their first 35 attempts were from beyond the arc.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ accuracy wasn’t much better, their 36-34 half-time advantage a reflection of the contest’s ragged but tightly-fought nature.

Down 56-51 at three-quarter-time but still in the hunt, the Sixers went ice cold in the fourth, hitting just one shot in the first five minutes to fall behind by nine points.

An 11-4 flurry capped by a Brandon Paul triple trimmed Perth’s lead to two points but Norton staved off any chance of a late heist, pilfering a key steal from Sunday Dech and icing four late free throws.

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