|The clash between the Bears and Kataja will be televised live in Denmark on DK4 Sport|
The Tuesday night clash between Bakken Bears and Kataja Basket on Day 2 of the EuroChallenge Regular Season Group G is much more than just a Nordic derby.
Regional bragging rights are of course a perfectly legitimate part of the loot package which the winner of the battle will claim, but there are also greater forces at play in Aarhus on Tuesday.
The side that will emerge victorious from this clash will do so as the solitary leader of Group G as the only team to remain unbeaten in this company after the first two weeks of the new EuroChallenge season.
Even more importantly, barring a total collapse in the remaining encounters, the winner will set the corner stone for a top-two finish in the group, which translates into a place in the Last 16 of the competition, and into a chance to shine on the European stage
Kataja's achievement to reach the play-off quarter-finals of the previous edition of the EuroChallenge was hailed as possibly the biggest achievement -at club level- in the history of Finnish basketball.
The Finnish club definitely aims to repeat the achievement this season, and the Danes can only aim to emulate them or, if need be, take their place in the elite company of eight teams that will be left standing in the competition come March.
Interestingly, a Finnish coach, Ville Tuominen, is responsible to steer the Bears in that direction.
"There are only four or five teams in the Danish league at the level of [Finnish] Korisliiga clubs, who have three American players each and operate on bigger budgets," Tuominen said.
"Kataja has a player like Teemu Rannikko, who is used at the top level and brings experience of the toughest games.
"We have Danish international players, who also play for the national team and have international experience and have gained confidence through winning."
SEASON SO FAR
The Bears have yet to taste defeat this season in any competition, as they march unbeaten after their first eight games in the Danish BasketLigaen.
Small forward Brandon Penn, with 17.6 points-per-game and Kenneth Barker, who averages 15.5 points-per-contest, are the two main offensive options for the Bears, although statistically young shooting guard Thomas Laerke, who has played only in three domestic games, is the team's second-leading scorer with 16.7 points-a-night.
The duo of Danish internationals Andreas Jakobsen and Nicolai Iversen however are the players who deliver the all-round performances that give the Bears their distinctive air of a team that has gelled together as a unit and acquired the winning mentality.
Jakobsen leads the team in assists, with 4.1 per-game, while big man Iversen shoots the ball at a higher field goal percentage (62.7%) than any other player on the team and averages 13.3 points to go with his 5.1 rebounds-per-contest.
Kataja on the other hand, initially struggled to find a consistent rhythm in the Finnish Korisliiga but now seem to have overcome the early bumps on the road, which saw them drop three games by mid-October.
The 76-70 home win against Cholet in the opening game of the EuroChallenge did not come in isolation, but was the fourth victory in what has now turned into a five-game winning streak.
What Kataja showed in that EuroChallenge premiere is exactly what their fans see week in and week out in domestic league action, as the main roles on the team are crystal clear.
Rannikko, who dished out a fantastic nine assists against Cholet, is Kataja's floor general and dictates the pace and shot selection.
More often than not, those shots will be taken by athletic big man Michael Morrison close to the rim with a high conversion rate.
Morrison, who had a game-high 22 points and a team-high six boards in the game with Cholet, leads Kataja in both scoring and rebounds after the first ten games in the Korisliiga.
|Above the rim: Michael Morrison for Kataja|
The Bears have not stepped out on a court since their now famous fourth-quarter comeback in the Netherlands last week, which secured them the dramatic 62-61 victory over ZZ Leiden in the EuroChallenge premiere.
That result, complete with a 22-8 late rally, was in great part a fruit of the persistence - and the never-say-die attitude - of Jakobsen and Iversen as they collected 13 points apiece, with the latter also picking up 13 rebounds to complete a double-double.
After dispatching with Cholet in their EuroChallenge opener, Kataja stayed at home and clinched an 86-75 victory over Namika Lappeenranta, after pulling away midway through the third quarter.
Morrison had a rare off night as he collected a season-low eight points, altough he still grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
It did not turn into a show-stopped for Kataja though, as Rannikko went 3-for-4 from beyond the arc and led the way with 18 points, also adding four assists.
The veteran got plenty of support from Sami Lehtoranta, who was 6-of-7 from the floor and collected 17 points and five rebounds, and Renaldo Major, who finished with 15 points and seven boards.