|12 March 2013|
|Dwight Buycks has scored in double figures in all games but one|
If the outcome of sport events was decided on paper, by way of comparing the opponents' records and stat lines, then Joensuun Kataja should not travel to France to take on BCM Gravelines Dunkerque on Tuesday.
The Finnish side have reached the EuroChallenge quarter-final play-offs against all odds, clinching the last ticket from the Last 16 on the final day of action in that stage.
Kataja did not expect to still be alive this far in the European competition, but then again many did not expect them to get out of the Regular Season or, for that matter, even play at all in the Regular Season, as they had to go through qualifying and prevail over Turkish side Aliaga Petkim to do so.
BCM on the other hand are joint leaders of the French Pro A, one of the best domestic leagues in Europe, and have reached the EuroChallenge quarter-finals with ease, topping their group in both the Regular Season and the Last 16 despite the fact they seemed overly relaxed at times.
What's more, BCM have the home-court advantage in the series and Kataja do not travel particularly well, having won on the road only once in the qualifiers and once in the Regular Season.
Yet this quarter-final clash is far from a case of David vs. Goliath.
Despite the fact BCM set out this year aiming to reach the EuroChallenge Final Four and Kataja is the Cinderella of the competition, they are both in the quarter-finals on merit and not because of a cosmic coincidence.
BCM did on Saturday what every team that aspires to titles has to learn how to accomplish in certain games during their campaign - they played well below their potential but still managed to win.
They looked solid on defence in the first quarter, but did not dominate or outclass Poitiers, a side that stands penultimate in the French Pro A standings, at any point, basically doing just enough to secure a 73-60 victory.
The end result justified the means on this occasion, as the previous week they had seen a seven-game winning streak snap with a 69-67 loss at Elan Chalon.
Dwight Buycks, BCM's top scorer in both the EuroChallenge and the domestic league, looked as sharp as ever and led all scorers with 20 points while three more players scored in double digits for the winners.
Kennedy Winston finished with 12 points, Abdoulaye Mbaye had 11, while Sarra Camara scored 10 points and also collected a team-high seven rebounds.
Kataja meanwhile had a harder time against Kauhajoen Karhu on the road and came from behind in the final quarter to edge out their hosts 79-78.
They did however ease back into action center Jerald Fields, who had missed almost three weeks' worth of games through injury, while they also opted to rest their leading scorer Jermaine Flowers, who was nursing a minor injury and will play normally on Tuesday.
In the absence of Flowers, Petri Virtanen and Daniel Coleman shared the offensive load with 17 points each.
|Jermaine Flowers leads the EuroChallenge in steals at 3.4 per game |
SEASON SO FAR
Kataja fall short of BCM in most major statistical categories in the EuroChallenge, but steal more balls and shoot better from both the three-point range and the free-throw line.
The two teams are evenly matched on defensive efficiency, as the French side give up 74.8 points to their opponents on average and the Finns an almost identical 74.9 points.
Their biggest similarity though lies in their size, or lack of it, and the way their perimeter play defines their entire approach to the game.
BCM out-rebound Kataja significantly, 37.6 to 29.3 boards per game, but they are not much bigger than their opponents overall, as neither team has a player taller than 2.06m on their roster, and in this respect they are a good match for the smaller side to have reached the quarter-finals.
The main battles in Tuesday's clash and the series in general will be fought on the perimeter, with Kataja mostly trying to limit the impact of Buycks, who leads his team in scoring, assists and steals.
The BCM point guard determines every offensive play and hits 61.3% of his shots from two-point range.
Kataja will try to prevent him from driving to the basket or connecting with center Ludovic Vaty who is simply lethal when the gets the ball inside (second in field goal percentage in the EuroChallenge), and force him instead to take more shots from behind the three-point arc, where his accuracy drops dramatically, to 26.3%.
The key player for Kataja, on both ends of the floor, will be Flowers and their chances of producing an upset rely heavily on his performance on the night.
The American small forward leads the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game on 53.7% shooting from the floor, but was also the team's top rebounder, with 5.2 boards per game, until the arrival of Coleman during the winter break.
Equally importantly, Flowers is the glue-guy on Kataja's aggressive defence, as he leads the EuroChallenge in steals, with 3.4 per contest.