|21 February 2013|
|Jermaine Flowers is one of the main reasons for Kataja's successful season, leading the team in points, rebounds and steals|
Not for the first time this season, Joensuun Kataja had a pleasant surprise in store for their loyal fans on Tuesday night.
Trailing Gaz Metan Medias by 16 points in the third quarter, defeat and abandoning all hope for a top-two finish in Last 16 Group I seemed as inevitable as snow in Finland in February.
The 2,000 fans in Joensuu Areena sat on the edge of their seats, but did not despair. They had been through this before.
They were hoping for a repeat of minor miracles they had witnessed previously in the same arena in this EuroChallenge campaign and the host team's players duly obliged.
Kataja came back, outscored their guests 30-13 in the final frame and won 79-75, even making up for their two-point defeat in Romania in the reverse fixture, four weeks earlier.
"The fourth quarter last night [Tuesday] was typical of our entire EuroChallenge season," Kataja head coach Jukka Toijala told website totalbaschet.ro.
"This year we have made many great comebacks.
"We were trailing Aliaga Petkim by 17 points in the qualifiers and we ended up winning, we were down by 17 to BK Ventspils in the first half and won."
Medias had received fair warning then, so there must have been a combination of factors that led to, or allowed, the comeback on Tuesday.
"We showed character against Medias too, and that is why we won," said Toijala.
"In the fourth quarter we did our job on offence.
"We created situations to score some easy baskets following the pick'n'roll and we had our fans on our side, this mattered just as much.
Kataja had 16 assists as a team on Tuesday, and more of them came in the last 15 minutes, when they started turning the game around.
Medias on the other hand committed 20 turnovers.
"I think they [Medias] were a little passive in the clutch and allowed us to impose the rhythm we wanted," Toijala said of the opponents.
"I must admit we were also lucky, as (Medias' Ivan) Lilov and (Rares) Mandache missed open three-point shots in the final minute.
Following Tuesday's results, Pinar Karsiyaka have clinched top spot in Group I and a place in the quarter-finals.
Ventspils, Kataja and Medias meanwhile are all tied at 2-3 and only one of them can advance to the play-offs.
|Antti Kanervo and his Kataja team-mates still have a chance to advance, but depend on the outcome of the game between Medias and Ventspils|
The Finnish side have to gift their fans another magical European night next Tuesday, by defeating Karsiyaka, and hope that Ventspils lose in Romania in order to secure that coveted ticket.
The Turkish side will travel to Finland without shooting guard Jon Diebler, who picked up an injury in his team's Tuesday game with Ventspils and will sit out at least a week.
"I don't think there is a favourite [to qualify]," is the Kataja coach's view.
"[Against Karsiyaka] it will be a tough game for us and we must prepare to play well and win."
"Of course it is easier for Ventspils, in that they will go through if they simply beat Medias, but Medias have been very strong at home, which leads me to believe that anything can happen.
"This group has been very balanced, so whoever goes through [to the quarter-finals] will be worthy of it.
Kataja had to navigate the risky waters of the Qualification Round back in September just to earn the right to play in the EuroChallenge Regular Season.
Their fans did not demand from the team to advance to the Last 16, let alone go into the final day with options to make the quarter-final play-offs.
"Just to be in the position we are in now, to reach the final day [of the Last 16] with options to qualify, is something extraordinary," offered Toijala.
"So far this season has been an incredible story for us, and we very much want this story to continue."