By Yarone Arbel
Dexia Mons-Hainaut of Belgium and Barons LMT of Latvia will meet today (20:00 CET) in the finals of the 2008 EuroCup, after registering big wins in the semi-final matches.
Dexia shocked local favorites Proteas AEL with a 70-55 win while Barons came back from an 18 point deficit against Tartu-Rock in the first game to capture an 88-82 win.
Both teams could make history and bring the first ever European title to their home country.
|Armands Skele struggled with an injury on Friday but will need to step up in the final for Barons.|
The closest a team from Belgium ever got was back in 1973, exactly 35 years ago, when Antwerp lost to Italian side Cantu in the finals of the Korac cup. That was also the last time a Belgian team played the finals.
ASK Riga is one of two clubs in the history of European basketball to win the most prestigious European cup three times in a row between 1958 and 1960, but back then they played in the USSR.
The closest an independent Latvian team ever made it was in 2003 when Ventspils, under coach Karlis Muiznieks, qualified to the Final Four of the FIBA Europe Europe Cup but lost in the semi's and had to settle for the third place.
Barons owe a lot of their win to back up guard Raimonds Vaikulis, who stepped up just when his team needed him most.
Close to the end of the second quarter, with Barons down by 18, after Giedrius Gustas found himself in foul trouble and Armands Skele got injured it was Vaikulis who saved the day.
Coming here with a season total of 32 points, 18 assists and 11 rebounds he set individual season highs in the semi's that not many people expected, when he scored 11 points, dropped ten assists and pulled in six rebounds.
Today Vaikulis will have his own private derby as he played for Mons in the 2004/05 season.
In the second half he was joined by Barons' leading star - Demetrius Alexander, who stepped up in the second half and scored 19 points that changed the pace of the game.
Two players who weren't at their best in the semi's - Gustas and Armandas Skele will have to step up, and show up in the finals against the experienced and smart back court of Dexia.
Dainius Adomatis, who won the Euroleague title with Zalgiris nine years ago, and J.P. Batista came off the bench and kept Barons in the game in some stretches of the semi. They'll play a key role also in the finals, against the inside trio of Dexia.
Mons will bring their great team play and experience with them to the finals.
As guard Travis Conlon, who had a big semi's performance with 11 points, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals said after the win - for some players on the squad this could be the last chance to win a European title before they retire, so we can expect each and every one of them to fight till the last minute.
Ben Ebong posted 24 points in the semi-final, 18 of them in the first half when Dexia took over the game, but focusing on him could be a big mistake by Barons.
Almost any player on the team of coach Finch can hurt you and take advantage in case the defense gives him too much breathing room.
40-year-old Roger Huggins, 34-year-old James Potter and the young relatively young 30-year-old Jim Cantamessa will form an aggressive front line to handle Batista, but most importantly give Alexander a hard time for 40 minutes.
Lefty guard Mike Lenzly was one out of seven from the field on Friday night in his weakest offensive performance this season, and coach Finch will need his contribution as well as Nate Reinking's - the back up clutch point guard who hurts you if you dare to under-estimate him.
This will be the first battle ever between Dexia and Barons.
While the Latvian side has played against a Belgium team - Charleroi, and lost both games by 14, Dexia has never faced a club from Latvia.
Lots of history will be made tomorrow in the Spyros Kyprianou arena no matter who wins when one team will lift their first European title, and enter the history books of their country.