Perth coach John Rillie has defended superstar Bryce Cotton and critcised the media for not asking about Tai Webster's absence after their Wildcats' shock 100-82 NBL loss to Illawarra.
The Hawks set up one of the biggest upsets of the NBL season with a 12-0 opening which they turned into an unassailable 38-18 quarter-time lead at the WIN Entertainment Centre on Friday night.
Centre Sam Froling scored 21 points and was unstoppable early, before imports Gary Clark and Tyler Harvey combined to ward off any hope of a late Perth miracle.
American Jordan Usher top-scored off the bench for the Wildcats with 17, while Illawarra's magnificent defence reduced three-time league MVP Cotton to a paltry seven points at 11 per cent.
Cotton had averaged 30.1 points during the Wildcats' now-snapped six-game winning streak and remains well placed to be the NBL's scoring champion for a seventh time, second only to Melbourne Tigers legend Andrew Gaze with 14.
When asked about Cotton's quiet night, Rillie shook his head in bewilderment.
"Everyone likes to get on Bryce when he doesn't score points but he had seven assists, zero turnovers," he said.
"Man, it's unbelievable what some people think when they shut one guy down for one night.
"Let's celebrate his success a bit more."
Webster, Cotton's usual starting backcourt partner, was absent through illness and wasn't mentioned in the post-match press conference, which Rillie finished by sarcastically talking to himself.
"I'll ask a question," he started. "Missing Tai Webster - was that important to you guys?
"Yes, I think having Tai Webster absent tonight was very key for our team. Thankyou."
With Cotton quelled and Webster missing, the Wildcats were ambushed.
Froling's pick-and-roll partnership with Harvey gave Keanu Pinder fits in the paint as the Hawks moved into pole position early.
Teenage prodigy AJ Johnson blew by Kristian Doolittle and threw down a thunderous dunk over Alex Sarr before seldom-used reserve Will Hickey followed some hard-nosed defence on Cotton with a banked prayer on the quarter-time bell to cap one of the finest quarters in Illawarra's long history.
Perth tidied up their rebounding in the second term and outscored the hosts 47-38 in the middle two quarters.
They threatened to steamroll their way to a come-from-behind victory, but Harvey and Clark had all the answers as Illawarra dominated down the stretch.
"Bryce is a great player, an MVP candidate, and we made it a tough night for him," Hawks interim coach Justin Tatum said.
"We prepared for him, we sent multiple guys on him and our guys were locked in."
"It's going to be difficult for a scorer to get into his groove if guys are really attached to him.
Australian Associated Press