The major stories on Australia’s front pages were:
1. The crisis in Australia’s immigrant detention centres, most notably in Woomera in South Australia. A combination of hunger strikes, threatened suicides and lips being sewn together forces a slight back down by the Howard Government and its Minister for Immigration, Phillip Ruddock.
2. The fall-out continues from the announcement that tennis champion Patrick Rafter is the Australian of the Year for 2002. The letters pages roil with disappointment that, to quote one correspondent ‘a sporting member of the beautiful people set’ should have received the honour ahead of an ‘Australian who has contributed to the advancement of humankind.’ You just can’t please some people.
3. U.S. President George W. Bush delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. It is an address that will become known to history as the ‘axis of evil’ speech, with the President naming Iran, Iraq and North Korea as nations that ‘pose a grave and growing danger’ to the United States and its allies. The Australian newspaper’s Greg Sheridan describes this address as ‘a magnificent speech-passionate, bold, confident, direct, uncompromising.’
Other news and notes:
-The Enron scandal claims another victim with a former vice-president of the company taking his own life hours before he was due to testify before a Congressional committee.
-The Wall Street Journal releases photographs that it has received of Daniel Pearl, its South Asia bureau chief who had been kidnapped on January 23. His captors claim that he works for the CIA, a claim hotly denied by both the Journal and the CIA.
-The St. Louis Rams and New England Patriots arrive in New Orleans to prepare for Super Bowl XXXVI. Las Vegas bookmakers have made the Rams favourites for the game by 14 points; one of the biggest points spreads in Super Bowl history.
-Australian cricket’s ‘Mr. Clutch’, Michael Bevan, completes another magical comeback, this time against New Zealand at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. His innings of 102 from 95 balls guides the Aussies home from the hopeless position of 6/82 chasing a total of 246 for victory. Headlines include ‘Fans feast on manna from Bevan’ and ‘Thank Bevan’.
-Astrid Lindgren, the creator of the popular children’s book character Pippi Longstocking, dies at the age of 94. Other noted personages to pass away included noted British actor Stratford Johns and American football Hall of Fame member Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane.
- ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias and ‘U Got it Bad’ are on top of the music charts, with bullets.
As was mentioned previously, the period in focus was placed between rounds. The WNBL season was nearing its close, with Adelaide having locked up the minor premiership and home court advantage in the first week of the Finals. The main interest now lay in which order the next three teams (Sydney, Dandenong and Canberra) would finish in order to grab the ‘double chance’. In the NBL, Wollongong’s defence of their League championship was looking strong, with a two game lead on the charging pack. There was a log-jam with positions 3 to 5, with the Kings, 36ers and Tigers only split by percentage. On the outside of the top six, West Sydney and Perth were lurking in the shadows and ready to strike. For the Wildcats they were looking to keep their string of 16 consecutive seasons with play-off action alive. It was reckoned that the Wildcats needed to win seven of their remaining games in order to make the play-offs. That journey would start with a home game against the struggling Melbourne Tigers.
Both teams would go into the game with major injury worries. The Tigers had been leading the League when Andrew Gaze injured an ankle in a game against Townsville a fortnight earlier. Now, Gaze was on the bench in civvies, the Tigers had lost their last three games and slipped from first to equal third (fourth on percentages). For the Wildcats, their skipper Andrew Vlahov and super scorer James Harvey would each carry niggling ankle injuries into the game. Both teams were desperate for a win and that desperation ran throughout the game.
Shooting at a 78% clip, the Wildcats took a 39-28 lead at the end of the first quarter. Tigers reserve Brett Jefferies was ejected following an incident where he was reported to have thrown a punch at Perth’s Ben Thompson (goodness knows why). The Tigers were able to stay within striking distance over the next two quarters so that by three-quarter time Perth’s lead was eight points. In the final quarter, the Wildcats went through a four-minute dry spell that allowed the Tigers to close to within one point. Marcus Timmons (30 points) and Lanard Copeland (24 points and 7 assists) gave Melbourne some hope of snatching the game. Unfortunately, the Tigers had given up too many early fouls and allowed Perth to close the game out from the foul line. James Harvey would finish as the leading scorer for the Wildcats, racking up 31 points on 12/20 from the field. The match-up of the two centres (Mark Bradtke and Paul Rogers) lived up to expectations; Bradtke finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Rogers garnered 15 points and 17 rebounds.
Final Score from Challenge Stadium: Perth 108-Melbourne 102
With their fourth straight loss, the Tigers dropped to outright fifth on the NBL ladder, while the Wildcats lay skulking on the edge of the top six.
NBL Ladder (after one game of Round 17)
Top Six: Bottom Five:
Wollongong 14 and 7 West Sydney 10 and 11
Victoria 12 and 7 Perth 9 and 11
Sydney 11 and 8 Brisbane 9 and 12
Adelaide 11 and 8 Canberra 7 and 12
Melbourne 11 and 9 Cairns 5 and 14
Townsville 10 and 10
WNBL Ladder: (At end of Round 15)
Top Four: Bottom Four:
Adelaide 15 and 3 A.I.S. 8 and 8
Dandenong 12 and 5 Bulleen 4 and 12
Sydney 11 and 5 Perth 4 and 14
Canberra 10 and 5 Townsville 3 and 15
As we eye the blue horizon’s bend, it is time to head off on another journey. Next week, hopefully, we will return to the 1980’s: a time of leg-warmers, red balloons and universal Armageddon. A cheery set of thoughts, isn’t it?
This is another in a regular series of articles that will take note of the historic events of the modern era of Australian basketball (1979-today). If you have memories to share, or topics that should be discussed, send an email to Nicholas.Way@Basketball.net.au and put in the subject line ‘Back in the Day.’