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.