|10 February 2014|
|"We were prepared to peak in the final and entered the game without any pressure" - Sani Becirovic |
EuroChallenge participants Krka Novo Mesto and Szolnoki Olaj triumphed in their respective national cup finals at the weekend and conquered their first titles of the season.
Krka have dominated the Slovenian league with an iron first in the past four seasons, but somehow the Slovenian Spar Pokar (Cup) trophy had never decorated the extensive trophy case of the Novo Mesto club in its 66 years of history, despite reaching the final on six occasions.
Coach Aleksandar Dzikic and his players corrected that on Saturday night though, as they prevailed 83-70 over arch-rivals Union Olimpija Ljubljana, the former cup champions, in the Spar Pokar final in Maribor.
Olimpija kept up with the pace during a relatively tight first quarter but Krka outscored their opponents 24-14 in the second frame to lead 48-35 at the break and extended the gap to as many as 25 points midway through the third, effectively sealing the triumph with plenty of time to spare.
The pair of Edo Muric and Sani Becirovic combined for 5-of-5 from behind the three-point arc and with their overall outstanding displays, they made sure that Krka would never look back once they jumped in the driver's seat.
Muric poured in a game-high 21 points and added four rebounds and four assists, while Becirovic, who was named MVP of the competition, finished with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Guard Jaka Klobučar was the third Krka player to score in double digits and collected 15 points and a team-high six assists.
The veteran Becirovic, Jasmin Hukić and Smiljan Pavic are the only three Krka players to have tasted this success previously in their career, as they had won the Slovenian cup while they were playing for Olimpija.
"We were prepared to peak in the final and entered the game without any pressure," Becirovic said afterwards.
"We are aware of their quality and we knew exactly how to stop them from playing their game.
"I think we dominated from start to finish."
Meanwhile Olimpija head coach Ales Pipan admitted Krka were worthy winners.
"Congratulations to Krka because they fully deserved the Cup victory, they were better than all the teams.
"We allowed Krka to pull away in the second quarter and while we tried to come back, they played very well until the end."
Krka had defeated Rogaska 76-61 in the quarter- finals and then eliminated Hopsi with a 97-79 win in the semi-final in order to reach the title game.
SZOLNOKI RE-CLAIM CUP
|Willie Warren had a team-high 15 points as Szolnoki Olaj won back the Hungarian Tibor Cup |
Szolnoki Olaj had won back-to-back Hungarian Tibor Cup titles in 2011 and 2012 but suffered the disappointment of losing the trophy last year.
The stakes were high for the club this weekend as they clashed with Sopron in the final, but Szolnoki managed to edge out their rivals 70-68 and re-claim the trophy.
Szolnoki were well-organised on the defensive end right from tip-off and jumped ahead 35-25 at the half-time buzzer.
With the occasion however weighing heavily on their shoulders, Szolnoki only scored 13 points in the third frame and Sopron began to chip away at the difference until eventually they reduced the gap to 68-67 with just 27 seconds left on the clock.
Sopron fouled Peter Lorant on the other end but the Szolnoki big man kept his calm to sink both free-throws and give his team a crucial 70-67 cushion, before Sopron wrote the final score, with a shot of their own from the foul line, just before the final buzzer.
Willie Warren finished with a team-high 15 point and added six rebounds, Justin Holiday collected 13 points and a team-high nine boards while veteran point guard Balázs Simon chipped in with 10 points.
"Sopron played very well until the end, I congratulate them on the effort," Szolnoki head coach Dragan Aleksic said, following the game.
"We had our ups and downs, especially on offence, but overall we did well and I am very happy with the win today."
SEMI-FINAL RUN FOR REGGIANA, TRIUMPH
|James White was on fire over the weekend for Reggio Emilia, but could not do enough to power his team into the Italian Cup BEKO Final Eight finale|
Despite losing to injury starters Andrea Cinciarini and Greg Brunner in the run-up to the big event, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia produced one of the two big upsets of the Italian Cup BEKO Final Eight on Friday, by knocking out Cantú in the quarter-finals.
James White came up with a game-high 25 points and added six assists, Troy Bell picked up a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds and Rimantas Kaukenas chipped in with 17 points as Reggio Emilia surprised Vitasnella Cantú 84-77.
On Saturday, Reggio Emilia went up against the other surprise semi-finalist, Banco di Sardegna Sassari, who had knocked out hot favourites EA7 Emporio Armani Milano in the quarter-finals.
This time however Reggiana were unable to overcome their absences, they fell behind in the third quarter and despite an enormous late comeback attempt, which saw them reduce a 12-point deficit to just three points in the final minute, they lost 92-86.
White produced a monstrous display in defeat with a game-high 32 points and eight rebounds while Kaukenas added 19 points in another losing effort.
Another EuroChallenge participant, Triumph Lyubertsy, reached half a step closer to a cup final than Reggio Emilia, but eventually also fell just short of the title game.
Triumph travelled to Lokomotiv Kuban at the weekend with the mission to defend an eight-point lead from their 71-63 win in the first leg of their Russian Cup semi-final tie.
They fell behind 32-24 at the end of the first quarter, but fought back in the second and reduced the deficit to just 46-45 by the half-time break.
Kuban however returned from the locker rooms looking even better than in the opening frame and outscored Triumph 27-12 in the next 10 minutes to take control of proceedings and ultimately clinch a 91-80 victory on the night, winning the tie 154-151 on aggregate.
For Triumph, Corry Higgins finished with 21 points and five assists while Kyle Landry added 14 points and seven rebounds in losing efforts.