UoN Basketball seal title with Cambridge comeback

UoN men’s 1s Basketball sealed the BUCS Midlands 1A title with a 66-56 victory over the University of Cambridge on Wednesday night at Jubilee Campus, continuing an excellent campaign in coach Mindaugas Janiska’s first season in charge. The Green and Gold had to fight hard for their victory, struggling to overcome the visitors for three quarters, before an impressive final quarter display proved enough to secure the win and the title.

The opening exchanges of the game started well for the home side, forcing an early turnover that led to a lay-up on the fast break and making a three-pointer to take a 7-2 lead inside the first three minutes of the game. But the depleted visitors, who could only field seven players in their squad for the game, began a brave effort that frustrated UoN throughout the game, levelling the game at eleven a piece and forcing head coach Mindaugas Janiska to call the first time-out of the night. The home side regained their composure in the immediate aftermath of that timeout, but were frustrated in the closing stages by a harsh refereeing call that sent Cambridge to the line for three free throws and put the visitors in front by two after the opening quarter. In the second quarter, the visitors maintained the momentum of their strong finish to the first period, extending their advantage to five points in the first couple of minutes. The Green and Gold were to finish the second quarter strongly though, going on a 9-1 run that saw them return to the effective, precise basketball that has served them so well this season. With that, UoN led 31-27 at half-time.

However, the third quarter was a frustrating one for the hosts. A couple of early baskets and foul shots for Cambridge saw them regain the lead within the first couple of minutes of the half, before a barren scoring run of three minutes for both teams meant the game became increasingly scrappy. In particular, UoN’s struggles with offensive rebounding became a source of irritation for the team as they struggled to establish any rhythm in the game. The closing stages saw Josh Smith come up with some important steals to provide the Green and Gold with some good opportunities, but their failure to take enough of these meant they trailed by four with ten minutes remaining.

It was in the final quarter though that the home side were able to show their quality. UoN made three of their opening four shots in the fourth quarter, with important baskets including one from President Stuart Wharff, helping to calm a few home nerves. Cambridge kept plugging away however, and were able to keep tabs with their opponents in the next few minutes to mean the Green and Gold led by just one with a little over five minutes remaining. It was at this point Janiska called a time-out for his team, and this proved to be the moment UoN closed out the victory. A spectacular block brought a full crowd to life at Jubilee Sports Centre, before a disjointed final few minutes saw the closing stages dominated by trips to the free throw line for the hosts following Cambridge fouls. The league leaders were able to keep their composure at the line, and it was with that they became champions of Midlands 1A.

Speaking after the game, UoN’s Josh Smith put the fourth quarter revival down to “stepping up our defence, playing hard. The first three quarters, they matched us, but in the last quarter, we showed we were the better team, put more effort in and it paid off”. In the end it was that effort that made the difference on a night where the Green and Gold struggled at times, but had the quality to grind out the victory. For the team now, the next challenge is Varsity, where they will face the team that has pushed them all the way in the BUCS campaign, Nottingham Trent. Asked whether he was confident ahead of the clash, Smith’s answer was simple, “Of course”. If that confidence is justified and UoN can get the win at Motorpoint Arena come May, it will cap a brilliant campaign for the team.

Alex Riggs

Images courtesy of University of Nottingham Basketball Club.

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