Report by Robbie MacDonald

BC CSU Sibiu vs Caledonia Gladiators

Caledonia Gladiators opened their FIBA Europe Cup campaign in style with an outstanding 80-68 victory away to BC CSU Sibiu to avoid a horror start in Transylvania. The hosts started the better of the two and had a strong third period, but an outstanding second-quarter performance from Caledonia proved enough to ensure they would return from Romania with the win.

It was a slow start to the game with both teams taking a while to find their shooting rhythm. Sibiu managed to get an early 4-0 lead which Lukas Palyza cut to one with a strong three-pointer. However, Mirel Dragoste replied with a driving lay-up to give the Romanian side a 6-3 lead with five minutes played. This soon became 8-3, but a three-point jump shot from Mihailo Jovicic quickly followed by a nice basket from Kyle Johnson levelled the tie. Both teams traded baskets throughout the rest of the quarter with neither managing to put together any kind of scoring streak. Jovicic’s basket three seconds from time brought his points total up to seven and edged Caledonia in front leading 15-14 at the end of the quarter.

In the second quarter, Gladiators took a foothold in the game. Jovicic continued his good form adding another two to his tally less than 30 seconds in. Mouhamed Barro hit back with a dunk to keep the home side in touching distance but that did not last long as Caledonia finally took control of the match with a ten-point score streak. The hosts finally got themselves back on the scoresheet as Monyea Pratt took advantage of Patrick Whelan’s foul from the three-point line. However, this did not hinder the visitors’ momentum who immediately added another nine points including a further three-point jump shot from Whelan. CSU looked to keep themselves in the contest as Yordan Minchev’s three-pointer was quickly added to by Kyle Adnam from the free-throw line with a minute to go in the period, but Ian Dubose’s concluded the half with a three-point jump shot to give Caledonia a 41-23 lead going into the break.

Mihailo Jovicic was the star of the first half with 13 points with Whelan not too far behind on ten to his name.

In the third quarter, Dubose continued where he left off with an early free throw to increase the advantage to 19. But Sibui kept nipping away and cut the deficit with two three-pointers, either side of Fahro Alihodzic’s layup. Gladiators looked to kill the game with back-to-back scores increasing the lead to 51-29. The two-time Liga Națională champions were not going to lie down though, and remarkably brought themselves back in contention with an incredible 13-0 streak. A layup from homegrown Scot, Fraser Malcolm brought the deficit back up to double figures, but the hosts kept pushing and dragged themselves within seven points with a minute to go in the quarter. Two successful free-throws from Dubose and Clifton Moore looked to give Caledonia side a bigger cushion going into the break, but Adman refused to let up and the Aussie point guard added another three with eight seconds to go to end the period at 55-49.

It was a nervy start to the fourth quarter for Gareth Murray’s side as Minchev opened the scoring to bring Sibui just four points behind. However, two three-pointers from Jovicic, either side of the birthday boy, Trent Buttrick’s own gave Gladiators breathing space at 63-51 with eight minutes to go. Pratt narrowed the gap to ten, but Whelan kept up his top form with another three of his own. Barro responded with a beautiful alley-oop as both sides traded baskets over the following minutes until the score sat at 70-60 with four and a half minutes to play.

Sibui’s top scorer Pratt remained a thorn for the visitors scoring yet another three to cut the lead to seven, but a five-point score run restored the advantage with 2 minutes remaining. The hosts tried their hardest to regain their first-quarter control, but the Gladiators did excellently to nullify their threat and saw out the game. Patrick Whelan concluded proceedings with an excellent looping three-point shot in the final second to ensure Caledonia began their Europe Cup journey with victory.

It was a much-needed win for the travelling Scots in Group B before a tough test at home to reigning Europe Cup champions and Polish league leaders Anwil Wloclawek next Wednesday night. Before that, it’s a return to league action for Gladiators who welcome Sheffield Sharks to PlaySport on Sunday – TICKETS. 

Caledonia Gladiators vs S.L. Benfica

After the postponement of their trip to Israel, Caledonia Gladiators had to wait until tonight to start their EuroCup campaign which they began superbly with a 73-52 lead over S.L Benfica. It was an agonisingly close first half as both teams went into the break level but Gladiators’ strength in depth showed as they pulled away in the final two quarters to claim victory in their first-ever European encounter.

To open the proceedings, it was a cagey start for both teams – neither was able to take control in the first few minutes. Kirsty Brown opened the scoring for Caledonia 30 seconds in with a looping effort inside the paint, but Artemis Barbosa Afonso responded well with two successful free throws after she was fouled by Ariadna Pujol. The Spaniard made up for it though, powering through a physical defence to regain the Gladiators’ advantage. Erin McGarrachan doubled that lead on the four-minute mark with a layup of her own, but Keilanei Cooper ensured it would not grow further getting her first points on the board for the visitors. The teams continued to trade baskets until Cooper equalised for Benfica to level the score at 8-8 three minutes from the break. A single free throw from Djeneba N’Diaye gave Caledonia the narrowest of leads but it would only last 20 seconds Afonso flipped the scoreline in the Portuguese side’s favour with the first three-pointer of the match. Hannah Robb reacted excellently with a three-pointer of her own but back-to-back baskets from Cooper, including a three from the American in the last 30 seconds, gave Benfica a 16-12 lead at the end of the period.

The second quarter started in a very similar fashion to the first continuing an extremely tight continental tie. Laken James immediately cut the deficit to one with a lovely three-point jump shot 30 seconds in. Marcy Goncalves stretched the gap with a good layup, but Samantha Roscoe equalled the score with a fantastic basket from outside the three-point line. Carolina Cruz regained the advantage for Benfica, but Gladiators responded with some outstanding team play straight out of Miguel Ortega’s playbook that left Roscoe with space at the edge of the area to retake the lead. A couple of free throws from N’Diaye followed by Sokhna Lo Sylla’s first points of the game gave Gladiators a five-point cushion as Benfica called the first Dizzyfish timeout of the game halfway through the quarter. The timeout appeared to work in stopping the Gladiators’ momentum as back-to-back baskets cut the deficit to one. Lo Sylla’s lay-up made it 27-24 but Cooper’s three-point pullup jump shot equalled the tie with three minutes to go in the half. N’Diaye restored the home side’s lead with another layup but Marta Martins flipped the score again with a well-worked effort from outside the area. Martins immediately added another three for her tally for Benfica but 19-year-old Yvheniia Putra’s layup with 34 seconds to go ensured the teams would go into half-time level at 33 apiece.

Cooper was by far the standout of the first half as the Californian guard picked up 14 points and 2 assists for the Portuguese outfit.

Gladiators began to take control of the match in the third quarter with a seven-point scoring run in the first four minutes. It was Cooper again who would put an end to the hosts’ momentum with a nice jump shot to pull her team back within five. Cruz pulled back another two for the away team but Roscoe and N’Diaye both scored to make the score 44-37. Cruz scored again but Gladiators remained clinical and claimed an eight-point lead with a minute to go. In the dying seconds, Robb added another two points to give Gladiators a 50-40 lead to hold onto in the final quarter.

It was in that quarter that Caledonia really shone. Ortega’s team defended resolutely to hold out and nullify Benfica’s threat while edging away with some good attacking play. A nine-point score streak from the hosts stretched the lead before Cooper could get her side’s first points of the period deep into the fourth minute. Gladiators had found their rhythm though and relentlessly attacked their opposition to increase the gap to 66-42. Sarah Shematsi pulled four points back for the visitors with a couple of good baskets but N’Diaye scored her third three of the game to make it 71-46. Afonso scored a three of her own with a minute to play but there was just too big of a gap too close.

Brown, who got Caledonia’s first points of the game, also got her team’s final points of the game with a two-point jump shot before Benfica concluded the evening with three successful free throws to end the match at 73-52.

With 19 total points and an outstanding second-half performance, Djeneba N’Diaye was the clear star and was awarded game MVP.

With Gladiators EuroCup journey finally underway they will look to continue their brilliant start in Group G on Thursday evening as they welcome Belgian outfit Basket Namur Capitale to East Kilbride.

Before that though, Caledonia’s domestic season gets underway on Sunday as they welcome Durham Palatinates to PlaySport TICKETS.