Basketball is always one of the highlights of the Varsity series, played in front of a packed house full of passionate fans at the Motorpoint Arena, but this year looks to be a particularly captivating contest. Having lost the last two Varsity meetings, UoN come into this year’s match up on the back of a triumphant BUCS campaign that saw them lose just one game and secure promotion to the top tier of the competition for the first time in their history. But in Nottingham Trent, they face the one university team to beat them this year, who themselves won silverware this season after taking the BUCS Trophy at the David Ross Sports Village in March.
In the aftermath of last year’s 80-70 defeat at Varsity, the team made a change in coach, hiring former professional player Mindaugas Janiska as the Green and Gold’s new leader. It proved to be an inspired appointment, with the side taking nine wins out of ten in their league campaign before wins over Worcester and Sheffield Hallam gave UoN their first promotion to the top division of BUCS. Adam Pratchett, the Students’ Union Sports Officer and five-year veteran of the team, paid tribute to Coach MD’s role this year, describing him as a “next level coach, not afraid to call out guys for their messing about, or if they think he’s better than him, he’ll play them one-on-one to show them who’s boss.” That shift in culture has clearly been crucial in making this team one to beat amongst university basketball teams.
This game will come only nine days after their play-off victory over Sheffield Hallam, but for club president Stuart Wharff, that will only be an advantage. “We normally have a break of three weeks at the end of the season, and Trent always come back a couple of weeks earlier so they’re always fitter and more prepared, but coming nine days after the biggest game of our BUCS campaign, we’ll be in great shape.” During that BUCS campaign, they faced their Varsity opponents Nottingham Trent twice, winning 81-69 at Jubilee Sports Centre in November, but losing a hard fought game 80-78 in the away game three weeks later. For Wharff, turning around that result will mean “playing as team, being ready from the get-go”, as well as “making sure we pay close attention to their four scholars and defending as much as we attack.”
? Fantastic result for @UoN_Basketball and @MD_Janiska today as they secure promotion with victory in the play-off final against Sheffield Hallam. Congrats to the team! ? #GreenandGold pic.twitter.com/dFbgJeRg9E
— Impact Sport (@ImpactSport) May 2, 2018
In terms of players to look out for, Case Bruton, who scored 39 points in last November’s victory, will be a key asset for the Green and Gold, but Pratchett emphasised the spirit of the team, describing them as a “really talented bunch of guys who have really bought into the system and committed to us, that’s the main reason we’re a really cohesive team.” That collective ethos will be vital if UoN are to win this fixture for the first time since 2015 against a good Nottingham Trent side.
“If we don’t win now, I don’t know what it will take”
Also crucial to a UoN victory will be their fans at Motorpoint Arena, with the Green and Gold set to have a good presence after more than 1000 tickets were sold in the first day of sales. Both stressed what an enjoyable event this will be, with Pratchett describing the night as “an amazing event, you’ve got the women’s and men’s game, the cheerleaders there, it’s a huge spectacle and definitely worth coming down on a Friday night for.” On the game itself, Wharff pointed out the end-to-end nature of the sport, with “constant action, highlight plays, dunks, deep threes, blocked shots” meaning this fixture is once again set to be one of the most exciting of the Varsity season. The club president was also confident of victory, saying “If we don’t win now, I don’t know what it will take because we’re fitter than ever, we’re playing better than ever, we have the most cohesive group of guys, we have a great coach. I think that’s a recipe for success.” If that recipe does prove successful and the Green and Gold regain the Varsity bragging rights, it will be the perfect end to a superb season. Given their form, they have an excellent chance to do so.
Images courtesy of Notts Varsity Series