BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|VEF Riga have been crowned Latvian champions for a third consecutive season|
VEF Riga defeated arch rivals BK Ventspils 100-81 on Monday night to clinch the play-off final series of the Latvian Aldaris LBL with a 4-1 score and conquer their third consecutive league title.
The champions entered the Monday clash at home determined to finish the title race on the night and took a 33-23 lead already at the end of the first quarter.
With six of their players scoring in double digits, Riga had no trouble in maintaining a comfy cushion of around 10 points throughout the encounter before pulling away in the fourth to put the result beyond doubt.
Riga's Will Daniels led all scorers with 19 points and added five rebounds; young Latvian international Dairis Bertans had 18 points and three assists; while veteran Kristaps Janicenoks and point guard Earl Rowland finished with 16 points apiece, the latter also dishing out six assists.
Rowland, a former international with Bulgaria, was named the MVP of the finals, in recognition mainly of his excellent contributions in Game 3 and Game 4, which proved pivotal.
With the series tied at 1-1 after the first two games, Ventspils looked like the favourites to take the lead when they entered the last frame of Game 3 on the road with a 5-point advantage.
Janicenoks and Rowland however made big plays in the clutch to give the hosts a two-point advantage in the final minute, 74-72.
Folarin Campbell, who was sensational for the guests all night and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, took the responsibility of the last shot but his three-point attempt did not drop and Riga survived a big scare.
Ventspils, who competed in the EuroChallenge this season, were not demoralised by the defeat and came up with another big performance in the fourth game of the series, this time at home.
They led by 11 points at the first buzzer and seven points at the half-time interval, but Riga came back from the locker rooms looking very focused on defence and outscored their hosts 24-13 in that period to turn the tables around and claim a 78-69 win that made it 3-1 in the series.
Rowland had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in that game while Janicenoks and Bertans combined for five-of-nine shots from three-point range and scored 13 points each for the eventual champions.
Riga were guided to the title by former Lithuania head coach Ramunas Butautas, who is the first foreign coach to win the Latvian domestic league.
Meanwhile Kaspars Berzins and Bertans have now won their third national league title while Janicenoks and Gatis Jahovics have added a second to their trophy case.