Caledonia Gladiators 66-63 Anwil Wloclawek

Report by Robbie Macdonald

Caledonia Gladiators backed up their successful trip to Romania with an incredible 66-63 win over the reigning FIBA Europe Cup champions Anwil Wloclawek to make it two from two in Group B.

The buoyant travelling Polish support could not roar the three-time Polish Basketball League winners to victory as they were put to the sword by Gareth Murray’s Gladiators in the first-ever Europe Cup match-up at the PlaySport Arena.

It took Anwil a couple of minutes to get going falling behind early to a nice opener from Fahro Alihodzic but a seven-point scoring run started by a Janari Joesaar three and completed by a Luke Petrasek alley-oop put them in control. Caledonia came to compete though and fought back to just a point behind halfway through the quarter before Patrick Whelan’s three-point jump shot cancelled out another Wloclawek alley-oop – this time from Tanner Groves – to level the tie at 9-9.

Clifton Moore put Gladiators back in the lead with three minutes to go in the quarter with a well-finished jump shot. Anwil quickly equalised but an eight-point score streak, completed by homegrown Fraser Malcolm, ensured the hosts would finish the opening quarter with a 19-11 lead.

Anwil refused to back down and immediately pulled three back with their first attempt of the second quarter through Petrasek. Victor Sanders cut the deficit to four from the free-throw line, but Lukas Palyza shot from deep to restore some breathing space for the hosts.

The visitors kept pushing though and soon brought the gap down to just one point. Sanders looked to put his side back in front driving in at the basket but was left in dismay as the referee blew for a travel infuriating head-coach Przemysław Frasunkiewicz. It only took a minute before his side did flip the game; however, Groves converted his two free throws with ease to make it 25-24.

The Washington-born forward scored again to increase the gap to three but Prince Onwas had other ideas finishing from outside the area to level the tie. Remarkably it was déjà vu for Caledonia as Onwas repeated his effort just 20 seconds later to put the home team back in front.

Groves again did the business from the free-throw line to make it a one-point game before his last-gasp layup took his personal tally to double figures and concluded the half with the score at 31-30 in favour of the Polish outfit.

It goes without saying that Groves was the star of the first half with ten points and eight rebounds. From a Gladiators perspective though Whelan was not far behind him with eight points, four assists and two rebounds of his own.

It only took two minutes for Caledonia to reclaim the lead, Onwas and Ian Dubose converting a single free-throw each in quick succession. It did not last long though, as Kalif Young rose well to rebound and layup after a good block from Moore. The Canadian then added another two for Anwil with yet another alley-oop from the visitors.

Whelan fired his points into double-figures with an exquisite three-pointer to put Caledonia back into the lead with five minutes to go in the quarter. Oozing in confidence the Great Britain international then played a lovely pass to Moore who finished well from outside the area to add another three for the hosts.

Anwil kept battling hard to keep themselves in contention, but Murray’s side relentlessly attacked their European opponents to keep a gap between the teams. Kyle Johnson’s three-pointer two minutes before the break increased the margin to five before Dubose’s single successful free throw gave Caledonia a 48-42 lead to defend in the final quarter.

Dubose was looking fired up and got Gladiators going in the fourth period with a two and three-point jump shot on either side of Petrasek’s successful free throws. It was not just his shooting that was impressing as the North Carolinian turned creator with back-to-back assists for Gladiators to bring his side’s lead into double figures for the first time in the match. Anwil did not let up though and another Young alley-oop followed by a Petrasek halved the deficit.

The match was hotting up as Gladiators fought valiantly to protect their advantage. Moore’s quickfire double made it 61-52 but in the blink of an eye that gap had narrowed to four as Wloclawek remained clinical. Two free throws from Young brought the visitors within a basket and with three minutes to go Caledonia’s lead had evaporated as Jakub Garbacz levelled the tie.

The tournament holders persistently attacked in search of the lead, but the ball just would not fall in the basket and Moore hit them on the break to give Gladiators a slender two-point advantage in the final two minutes. Petrasek’s single free throw set up an excruciating final 90 seconds as the sides went end-to-end battling for that all-important basket.

And that basket came with five seconds to go by way of Gladiators. Whelan showed his importance once more, stealing the ball and drawing the foul to send Palyza back to the line who converted his free throw under immense pressure. There was a tormenting wait as the game was delayed for an Anwil out-of-bounds challenge, but that challenge was rejected, and Gladiators retained possession.

And it was that man again as Palyza drew another foul to get another two chances at the basket and despite missing the first, he held his nerve to score his second and make it 66-63. Wloclawek went flying up the court, looking for an unthinkable equaliser but that proved just too much as Garbacz’s effort flew wide of the basket concluding a phenomenal Europe Cup tie in East Kilbride.

With 11 points, five assists and four rebounds Whelan may feel hard done by but Clifton Moore was also instrumental in defeating the reigning champions and claimed MVP with 16 points and eight rebounds.

This evening’s incredible result sets the Scots in good stead in Group B going into their third game of the tournament against joint leaders Surne Bilbao Basket in Spain next week. Before that, it’s back to the league for Gladiators who face Leicester Riders at PlaySport on Sunday – TICKETS.