Tomorrow, Trophy holding Caledonia Gladiators take on the table-topping London Lions in a clash of the giants at Birmingham’s Utilita Arena in the Final Four of the British Basketball League Trophy. Gareth Murray’s side look to get the weekend off to a flyer, aiming to advance to Sunday’s final and retain the silverware they historically won last season.
The Trophy Campaign
Despite looking down and out after two games, with defeats to Cheshire and Plymouth at home and on the road respectively, Gladiators defied all odds and advanced to the final four in style, defeating Sheffield and Surrey in their two final group stage games and advancing via the second spot with a 2-2 record, behind only Cheshire Phoenix (4-0).
For London, they cruised through their group, becoming the first team to secure their spot in Birmingham, after going 3-0 in their opening three games before dropping the final one in a heavy defeat against Bristol Flyers in the South West.
This Year’s H2H
So far in the 23/24 British Basketball League campaign, the sides have played two games, Gladiators winning one in London, and Lions one in both East Kilbride and at home.
For just the second game of the regular season, Gladiators travelled south days after an opening night win in Manchester and came out short thanks to an awe-inspiring Lions performance – 93-65. An all-round team performance from the hosts, with five players on double-figure points, saw the Lions comfortable in the game, proving early on in the campaign that they would be a force to be reckoned with.
In the capital for the December game, after an impeccable Jordan Taylor shot forced overtime, the visitors stepped up a gear, eventually coming out with an impressive 94-100 win behind 26 points apiece from Ian DuBose and Patrick Whelan. Second chance points told the game’s story, with Gladiators leading 4-22 in that category.
Most recently, the Lions visited PlaySport for the first time, and despite a strong outing from the Gladiators, backed by an impressive and loud home crowd, the London side, who struggled slightly for injuries, came out with a closely fought 79-87 victory. Only Prince Onwas (19) scored more than GB veteran Gabe Olaseni, who led his side to the win with 18 points.
In the Trophy group stages, Gladiators have had five players scoring double figures on a nightly basis (Palyza, Whelan, Moore Jr., Bothwell, Alihodzic), led by Lukas Palyza who is averaging 15.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 2 APG. Inside, Clifton Moore has impressed, contributing a near-double-double with 13.8 points and 9.5 rebounds a game.
For Lions, Matt Morgan continues to storm all competitions, putting up 17.5 PPG a night – just shy of his usual 20 – alongside four rebounds and three assists. January saw the side add more ex-NBA talent with eight-year veteran David Nwaba joining the squad and scoring 20 points in his sole Trophy game vs Manchester Giants.
As a start to an epic weekend, the Gladiators’ semi-final will be one of four games hosted by Birmingham’s impressive Utilita Arena, with the 15,000-capacity venue also having the second men’s semi-final (Leicester vs Cheshire) on Saturday, and the women’s (Essex vs London) and men’s (SF winner 1 vs SF winner 2) on Sunday.
Amongst an array of entertainment, British Basketball will be at the forefront and showcased to an excitable Birmingham crowd, alongside fans from each of the teams across the country.
Last Year’s Success
In front of a 6,000-capacity Glasgow crowd, it was the Gladiators who came out victorious in an end-to-end battle with Cheshire Phoenix. The victory came after a sensational winner from David Sloan, who led the side to a 73-70 victory in dramatic fashion, with a buzzer-beating three-ball to secure the side’s first silverware in two decades.