BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|"We did not expect the fifth game of the finals to be anything less than a great battle" - Krka head coach Aleksandar Dzikic (Drago Perko/kosarka.si)|
This time around it went down to the last game of a hotly contested play-off finals, but in the end Krka Novo Mesto prevailed once again, celebrating their fifth consecutive Slovenian Telemach League title.
In Game 5 of the finals, which this year were characterised by the solidarity campaign of both clubs to the victims of the recent floods in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, Krka edged out arch-rivals Union Olimpija Ljubljana 65-61 at home to win the series 3-2 and lift the trophy.
The Novo Mesto side, which just missed out on the play-offs of the EuroChallenge this season after losing 69-66 in overtime to eventual champions Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia in the final game of the Last 16, have clinched the double on the domestic front, as they had already conquered the Slovenian Spar Cup in February.
The home-court advantage proved crucial in this year's Telemach League play-offs, as Krka did not win on the road either in the finals series or previously in the semi-finals, where they had dispatched of Polzela.
On Saturday, Krka established a healthy seven-point cushion by the end of the first quarter, led 36-31 at half-time and increased the gap to 44-35 shortly after the interval.
It looked liked Aleksandar Dzikic's men would hold on to the lead until the final buzzer without considerable resistance, but Olimpija had not yet said their final word.
Making the most of Krka big man Zvonko Buljan being called for his fourth foul, the Ljubljana side went on an 11-0 run and grabbed control of proceedings.
With Krka going through a six-minute dry patch and trailing 56-48 midway through the fourth quarter, Jaka Klobucar decided it was time to take matters into his own hands.
The Krka guard, who was voted MVP of the finals, poured in 12 of his 14 points in the final frame to inspire a swift comeback and his team went ahead 60-58 entering the last minute of the clash.
Veteran Sani Becirovic kept his calm at the charity stripe in the clutch (9-of-10 free throws) and sealed Krka's triumph, finishing with a game-high 18 points.
Arthur Stephenson and Finnish international Sasu Salin finished with 11 points each for Ljubljana in the losing effort.
"We showed that we still believe we can win even when we fall behind, it is the best testament to our fighting spirit," Klobucar said afterwards.
"When Olimpija entered into the bonus, it was up to me to take the ball and draw fouls, I managed to do that and we are very happy."
Klobucar in fact took several trips to the foul line, as he drew no less than 11 fouls from his opponents and sunk 10 of his 13 free throw attempts.
"We did not expect the fifth game of the finals to be anything less than a great battle," Dzikic commented.
"Olimpija were forced to bring out the best in them and you really could not wish for a better finals series.
"With five minutes [remaining] we were in a quite bad situation but, once again, we managed to come back.
"It has been a season of ups and downs like this for us, but today, all this is forgotten because we've won."