BBL Trophy Final 2013 Preview

rsz_bbl_trophyThe second trophy of the season is up for grabs on Saturday in Glasgow as the Leicester Riders take on the Sheffield Sharks at the Emirates Arena.

Rob Paternostro’s side have now contested the last three major finals having won their first trophy in over a decade when they defeated Newcastle to win the BBL Cup back in January. Meanwhile, the opposing Sharks reached their first final since losing the 2011 Play-Off Final when Mersey Tigers completed a memorable treble. Sheffield last competed in the Trophy final in 1998 when they defeated the London Towers while Leicester last reached the competition’s climax in 2006 but were defeated by a Newcastle side on their way to the ‘clean sweep’.

Sheffield have never finished below 6th in the league in 17 seasons in the BBL but currently find themselves languishing in seventh locked in a play-off battle with 10 games remaining. In contrast, the Riders are enjoying a stellar campaign and are already on course to set a new club record for most wins in a regular season. Last season, Leicester achieved their best league finish with a runner-up spot having won 22 games in a season for the first time.

The two sides have met on four occasions this season so far with Leicester victorious in each game. In the season opener, the league leaders edged to a 71-55 success in Sheffield and the two teams then progressed to the last four of the BBL Cup where a semi-final showdown took place. Atiba Lyons’ men fell to a 90-70 defeat on their home court before suffering a heavier defeat on the road as Leicester’s 75-45 gave them a 165-115 aggregate victory. Last month, Sheffield were restricted to just 51 points in a 21 point defeat in front of the Sky cameras in Loughborough and the two sides clash again next Wednesday at the EIS Arena.

Leicester  and Sheffield have had contrasting runs on their way to the final in Glasgow especially in the semi-finals. The Sharks enjoyed a comfortable 176-134 aggregate victory over the Cheshire Phoenix, who were without two leading scorers in Chez Marks and Jerome Gumbs for the second leg. The Riders on the other hand were locked in a tight duel with the Worcester Wolves despite winning 82-73 in the first leg on the road. Paul James‘ men battled back in Leicester and managed to take the overall lead at one point in the fourth before falling short 148-141 on aggregate even with their 68-66 success.

In the earlier stages, Sheffield needed overtime in both of their opening matches as they saw off the Giants 85-73 in Manchester before beating the Glasgow Rocks 84-81 at home in the quarter-finals. Leicester‘s route to the last four was more straight forward with convincing victories on the road following up a 105-73 win against the Essex Leopards with an 82-66 success over the Surrey Heat. 

BJ Holmes has proved a worthy replacement of Gage Daye and leads the team’s Trophy stats in scoring (17.5ppg) and assists (2.8) having top scored in the last eight clash with a 25 point haul. Mike Tuck has had a strong Trophy campaign so far, averaging 16 points per game and 12.8 rebounds a game while Micah Williams (14ppg) and Demetrius Jemison (12ppg) are the other scoring options for the Sharks. Zaire Taylor leads the Riders in scoring with an average of 17 points in the four games while Drew Sullivan‘s stats portray his all-round performances with an average of 14 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6 assists.

Both teams have a number of scoring threats but it’s the Leicester Riders that will go into the final as favourites with their defence key to their successes this season, conceding an average of 67.1 points which is comfortably the best record in the league. A low scoring defensive battle is expected with Tuck and Jemison taking on the likes of Anthony Rowe, Pavol Losonsky and Sullivan in the rebounding department which could prove cruical. A win for Paternostro and his Riders and talk of a ‘clean sweep’ will arise once more.

Leicester and Sheffield set Trophy Final clash

Leicester Riders will take on the Sheffield Sharks in the BBL Trophy Final next Saturday after contrasting semi-final victories.

Rob Paternostro’s men went to Worcester on Friday night and came with an 82-73 lead to take into the second leg. Zaire Taylor led the way with a 29 point haul that was matched by Wolves’ Alex Owumi, who also provided six assists. 24 hours later, Leicester saw their lead wiped out at one stage before falling to a 68-66 defeat which was enough to ensure their place in next week’s final courtesy of a 148-141 aggregate success.

The Riders looked in control during the second period as they built a 12 point lead on the night before the visiting Wolves closed the half with the final eight points to trail by just four at 34-30. The momentum swung when play resumed and Owumi capped a 10-0 run with a three to make it 42-36 to Worcester midway through the third. Leicester recovered to regain the lead but triples in the final minute from Sherrad Prezzie-Blue and Arnas Kazlauskas made it 48-45 in favour of Paul James’ side at the end of the third to trail by six overall.

Prezzie-Blue then scored nine points in the final quarter to put the visitors up by ten as they took the overall lead in the tie for the first time. Owumi maintained the gap with a basket to make it 63-53 with just under five minutes remaining before the Riders stepped up their defensive efforts and forced their opponents into a two-minute baron spell. Leicester regained overall control but were still trailing by six when Taylor nailed a pivotal 3-pointer with 1:32 left.

The wind was taken out of the Worcester sails and Taylor then split his free throw attempts to close out the game with the Wolves winning 68-66 but falling to a seven point defeat across the two games. Owumi top scored with another 29 point haul but only converted 50% from the free throw line as Worcester collectively missed ELEVEN which proved costly. Taylor led the way for the Riders with 16 points as they fell to their first home loss of the season despite reaching their first Trophy final since 2006.

Check-out the highlights of the semi-final two legs: (OfficialBBL)

Sheffield had already built a 14 point advantage (74-60) in the first leg in Cheshire before finishing the job on their home floor with a 102-74 win on Friday. Demetrius Jemison, Olu Babalola and BJ Holmes each had 16 points for the hosts while Micah Williams had 15 points on 5-8 3PT shooting. The Sharks progress to their first Trophy final since 1998 when they beat London Towers 82-79 with John Amaechi leading the way with an incredible 40 points and 16 rebounds.

The task facing the Phoenix increased in difficulty due to the absences of Chez Marks and Jerome Gumbs. Sheffield capitalised on their depleted opponents and a 14-0 spell midway through the second helped them to a commanding 49-29 advantage. Cheshire battled back in the third but the damage had already been done and the Sharks powered on in the fourth, outscoring the visitors 32-22 on their way to a 176-134 victory on aggregate.

The final will take place next Saturday at the Emirates Arena with the Riders looking to follow up their Cup Final success with another trophy while the Sharks go in search of a first piece of silverware since winning the Cup in successive years in 2010-11.