May 24, 2002
Day 12 (May 24, 2002)
SYDNEY, Australia - The hot-shooting Sydney Kings put Arizona into a deep hole and then had to hang on for dear life in handing the Wildcats a 123-116 defeat Friday night at Alexandria Stadium.
Led by the play of guard Kavossy Franklin, the Kings jumped out to a quick 14-4 lead in the first four minutes and threatened to run away with the game. Sydney hit eight treys in the first quarter alone and built as much as a 15-point lead in the first 12 minutes. Franklin accounted for 11 points by himself, including three field goals from behind the arc. Arizona scored the last three points of the period to cut the deficit to 34-22 at the first horn.
The hot shooting continued in the second quarter as the Kings pushed the lead to as many as 21 points on three occasions, including a 57-36 count at the halftime break. Sydney shot 55.8 percent for the game (43-of-77), and knocked down 14-of-29 three-point attempts.
Sydney's offensive explosion may have caught the Wildcats off guard, especially after Thursday's 29-point win over the same club. Arizona looked sluggish at the start of its third game in three days and could manage just a 39.4 field goal percentage for the game.
"We let them get their confidence early," said Channing Frye. "They started hitting shots and it felt like they didn't stop. I think it took us until halftime to realize that we needed to play a lot harder."
The second half was a much different story, as a more focused squad retuned from the lockerroom. Led by Jason Gardner, Will Bynum and Luke Walton, Arizona slowly chipped away at the lead. Bynum got the team going with two quick traditional three-point plays on drives to the bucket and Gardner followed with seven straight points of his own to get the team headed in the right direction.
"We played harder in the second half," said Jason Gardner. "That's all it took for us to get back in it."
Arizona trimmed eight points off the deficit in the third quarter. Gardner, Bynum and Walton scored all but two of the team's points in a 17-6 run to open the fourth and close the gap to 102-100 with 6:31 to go. Fifty-one seconds later, a Walton field goal gave Arizona its first lead of the game at 105-104.
The Cats managed to take a five-point lead (109-104) with just over four minutes remaining, but Franklin took over from there by scoring 12 of the Kings' last 19 points to seal the victory.
Franklin led all scorers with 46 points on 17-of-21 shooting, while Gardner (35 points and 10 rebounds), Walton (29 points and 14 rebounds) and Bynum (24 points and five rebounds) combined to score 98 of the Cats' 116 points.
"We shot ourselves in the foot with our slow start," said assistant coach Josh Pastner, who handled the head coaching duties Friday. "But I feel good that we fought our way back into this one. Now we just have to learn how to close people out."
Arizona will next be in action on Sunday, May 26, as the squad takes on the Brisbane Bullets youth squad. Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The smoky atmosphere present at Friday's game at Alexandria Stadium was no accident, as the locals don't seem to let the weather interfere with a barbeque. They just move it indoors. Yes, we got a first hand display of indoor barbequeing for a good 30 minutes before warm-ups began. The gym was filled with a thin layer of smoke resulting from the grilling of sausages (they smelled quite good, actually). When an exit door was opened for ventilation was combined with the humidity of heavy rains outside, it made for a slick playing surface. It was explained that the moisture in the air brought up some of the pork fat that had been tracked onto the court during the pregame festivities.
The floor was so slick that play was actually halted for about 20 minutes at the 3:37 mark of the second quarter as the floor was cleaned. Game officials then decided to call an early halftime and the remaining time was added to the third quarter game clock.
If Australians were asked to pick a favorite Wildcats after watching the team play on this tour, the pick right now could be Will Bynum. At every venue, fans have marveled at the Cats' athletic abilities (especially the dunks), but nothing brings them out of their seats like a Will Bynum slash to the basket for a dunk or layup.
One fan marveled to me after watching Will put down a dunk last week in Adelaide, "I have never seen a human being of Bynum's size leap like that. He is utterly amazing. I can't believe he can dunk the ball so easily."
The 5-foot10 Bynum certainly put on a show in Sydney on Friday, scoring 24 points (21 in the second half) with most of them coming on drives to the basket. But it will be his last appearance in Australia, as he is scheduled to return home to Chicago tomorrow to be with his mother, Rose, who has been in and out of the hospital recently.
When asked if he likes all of the attention he's been getting "Down Under," he replied with a big smile, "Yeah, it's been nice, real nice. This trip has been a great experience for me."