BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Veteran Sami Lehtoranta and his Kataja team-mates have rebounded from their two-game slump with two successive victories|
EuroChallenge participants Kataja Basket have picked up two wins within the space of 48 hours to turn around a poor start in the Finnish Korisliiga and improve to 3-2 in the standings.
Kataja had started their new domestic league season with three consecutive games on the road and after a successful opening night at Kouvot, where they clinched an 84-64 victory, they suffered two heavy defeats in a row, first at Tapiolan Honka (76-60) and then at Tampereen Pyrintö (95-74).
On Monday night however, last year's Korisliiga runners-up could finally play their first game of the season in front of their fans at Joensuu Areena and they rewarded the 1,200-strong home crowd by enjoying a 107-63 rout of Namika Lappeenranta.
Kataja established a 14-point lead already during the first quarter and from then on they pulled away steadily, as they drilled 14 of their 22 shots from behind the three-point arc.
Center Michael Anthony Morrison paved the way with 21 points and eight rebounds, veteran Finish national team star Teemu Rannikko finished with 14 points and five assists, fellow veteran Sami Lehtoranta had 17 points and Juho Nenonen collected a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Not content with just snapping the losing streak in style, Kataja travelled to Salon Vilpas on Wednesday and clinched a second victory, 80-72, behind an excellent start to the game.
Kataja surprised Vilpas by jumping to a 33-19 lead and held off their hosts' attempts to get back into the game until the final buzzer.
This time around, Kataja only converted seven of their 26 attempts from three-point range but they went 22-for-39 from two-point range, while their hosts struggled and only shot 35.7% from the floor.
Morrison had 14 points and nine boards, Rannikko chipped in with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists and Renaldo Major added 12 points for the winners.
These three players were Kataja's most significant additions to the roster last summer and the fate of Kataja's campaign this season depends largely upon their performances.
After their first five official games, big man Morrison leads the team in scoring, with 16.4 points per game, and rebounds, with 8.4 boards per game.
|New addition Teemu Rannikko has established himself early on as one of Kataja's key players |
Rannikko averages 12.8 points per night and leads the team in assists, with 3.6 per encounter, while his return to Finland after 13 seasons of playing abroad has spread enthusiasm among Kataja fans.
Major meanwhile is the team's third-leading scorer so far, with 12.4 points per game, while he also collects 4.6 rebounds per night.
Interestingly, Kataja lost in the three games that his contribution was below these average figures.
Not all has been good news for the Finnish side these past days however, as doctors have diagnosed Vesa Mäkäläinen with an injury that could keep him sidelined for about a month.
The 27-year-old Mäkäläinen, who was unlucky enough to miss big part of Kataja's summer training because of another injury, is therefore doubtful for the opening day of the EuroChallenge Regular Season.
Kataja registered perhaps the biggest success in the history of Finnish basketball at club level last year, by advancing to the EuroChallenge quarter-final play-offs, where they fell 2-0 to BCM Gravelines Dunkerque.
Interestingly, their 2014 EuroChallenge campaign gets under way with a clash against another French team when Regular Season Group G tips off.
Their opponents in the season opener, Cholet, are off to a very encouraging start in the French Pro A as they have won both their first league games.
Cholet's second success, 85-76 away at Limoges, came on Tuesday night on the back of another stellar performance by John Cox, who collected 25 points and eight rebounds, also dishing out five assists.
"I am very happy with today's win, I had never won at Limoges, in front of these fans before," Cox, who competed in the EuroChallenge with Paris Levallois last season, said after the game.
"It's been one of the best games of my career," the veteran American guard added.
Kataja play host to Cholet on Tuesday 5 November while ZZ Leiden welcome Bakken Bears Aarhus in Holland on Wednesday, in the other game of Day 1 action in Group G.