In a match-up of Ukraine’s top 2 teams, champions Azovmash kept their perfect 11-0 record intact with an away win over last year’s runners-up, BC Kyiv.
The match-up between the two teams had been highly anticipated since the final buzzer of last season’s finals, in which Azovmash recorded a 4:2 overall win in an extremely intense and close series.
The start of the game indicated that both teams were evenly matched and the fans, who packed the Sports Palace, would be in for an interesting game.
Azovmash kept up, but relied more on the individual performance of Rashawn Weathers, who scored 8 points in the first quarter, but got into early foul trouble and spent most of the game on the bench. His teammates had a slow start and at the end of the 1st quarter BC Kyiv led 27:20.
“This is upsetting – I was on my way to score 40 tonight”, said Rashawn after the game.
Defense dominated offense in the second quarter and BC Kyiv managed to score only two points during the first 5 minutes. Azovmash didn’t look much better during the stretch either and the quarter finished with the score 14:13, which gave the home squad an 8 point lead at halftime.
Azovmash set up a 2 – 3 zone to start the third quarter and this defensive strategy paid off almost immediately. BC Kyiv could not move the ball on offense fast enough and their defensive efforts left much to be desired.
“We had been thinking about defense in the first half and that’s why the offense had come easy for us”, - said BC Kyiv Head Coach Renato Pasquali.
“Unfortunately, we had a hard time breaking their zone in the 3rd quarter, that’s why my players focused on that task and completely forgot about defense”.
Art Long, Mariupol’s latest acquisition, came strong in the third after a slow start to the game. He had no mercy on BC Kyiv’s big men as he completely dominated the boards and almost single-handedly outrebounded the entire BC Kyiv team. Long’s spectacular in-your-face dunks highlighted Azovmash’s 3rd quarter 11:30 run, which proved to be the knockout blow for the home side.
Mariupol’s Lior Lubin, who finished the game with 19 points and only two missed shots and Arnas Kazlauskas, who added 16 points, contributed to the rally with a series of successful 3-point shots, which gave their team a comfortable 11-point lead at the start of the 4th.
“I had a slow start to the game since I needed some time to adjust to the players that marked me”, - said Art Long, who scored 19 points and collected 14 rebounds – just one less than the entire BC Kyiv team. “I had played against the best players in the world before and today I knew my opponents were not going to stop me once I’d get my game”.
BC Kyiv’s guard Lamarr Greer, who was once again game’s top scorer with 23 points said: “Art Long changed the game in the 3rd quarter. He did whatever he wanted to do and we couldn’t contain him. It’s hard to tell how to stop him in our future match-ups. Perhaps, lift more weights?”
Lamarr was one of the few BC Kyiv players who would not give up in the final quarter. Sergei Chikalkin, who added 16 points for the home side, was the only other Kyiv player who scored in double digits. Although most of their shots found the target, Azovmash players would consistently respond to them as successfully and never allowed the home side to get back in the game.
Interestingly enough, this game had cousins Marcus Norris and Rashawn Weathers face each other for the first time since they’ve been in Europe.
“It’s always exciting to play against Marcus and I always want him to play well”, - said the member of victorious side Weathers.
“I heard my cousin said he was gonna score 40 tonight”, - said Norris with a smile. “No way I was gonna let him do that.
As for our today’s loss – I hope we all know why we lost. I hope we can take a lesson out of it to try to avoid these kinds of upsets in the future”