Leopards went to the National League Final Fours six times. Such an event doesn’t exist any more, but they were arguably the most successful side when it came to getting there. Unfortunately they won just one of the semi-finals, which proved to be a bit of a downer. But the year the did win the semi-final – 2012 – saw them go on to win the final and complete a Division One league, play-off and National Cup treble. It was undoubtedly the best team the second version of Leopards ever put on the court, and a truly memorable season for the fans who’d brought their club back to life again.
Leopards 82 – 73 Leicester Warriors
LEOPARDS overcame a slow start to reach the EBL Division One Play-off final for the first time with a hard-fought victory against Leicester Warriors, at the Amaechi Centre on Saturday.
The Big Cats struggled in the opening stages as a Warriors team who have proved to be the surprise of the Division One season produced a fighting display, but after David Buchberger had given them the lead with the final shot of the first half, they never trailed again. Having hit some key shots in their National Cup final success, Buchberger again stepped up to score 24 points off the bench for the Big Cats.
Ousman Krubally had 15 points and 20 rebounds while Vernon Teel also had a double-double, adding 13 assists to his 24 points. Big men Zak Wells and Simonas Bublys also contributed well, adding 14 points and seven rebounds between them.
Dawaun Wells opened the scoring for Warriors on his way to a 16 point haul, and although Teel replied from the foul line, the Leopards found the going tough in the early stages. A jump shot from Eugene Pettaway – who led all scorers with 30 points – put the Warriros 11-4 ahead after four minutes of action.
Teel broke the run and Krubally added a couple of baskets as Leopards closed out the period with a 6-2 run to trail 13-10. It didn’t get noticeably better at the start of the second period as a pair of Pettaway free-throws launched a 14-2 Leicester run to open the quarter.
Only Teel troubled the scorers for Leopards as Warriors moved 27-12 ahead with six minutes in the half remaining. Teel drained from the Land of Plenty to break the tear before Bublys hit a sweet jump shot and the big Lithuanian completed the 12-0 run off a Krubally assist to make it a three point game with 4:11 on the clock.
From there on it was tip and tuck, with Buchberger burying a trey to keep Leopards in touch, and he gave Leopards their first lead of the game with 1:53 remaining when he drained a pair at the foul line before hitting the buzzer-beating three which sent them into the locker room with a 35-33 lead.
The third period proved to be Teel-time as he hit 12 points, and he provided the assist for Buchberger to make it a double-digit game going into the final minute of the quarter before hitting a jump shot with seven second remaining to send Leopards into the final break with a 58-47 lead.
Buchberger hit another three to open the fourth period, and the lead only briefly dipped into single figures, and a Lukas Volskis basket made it an 18 point game with 4:31 left in the game. A timeout from Karl Brown worked as Dawaun Wells hit three straight treys to halve that lead before Krubally broke the run, and baskets from Teel and Zak Wells saw Leopards regain the initiative, and Buchberger wrapped up the win from foul line.
Leopards: D Buchberger (24), V Teel (24), O Krubally (15), Z Wells (8), S Bublys (6), J Lockwood (2), L Volskis (2), D Norton (1), B Wilkinson, L Robertin (DNP), R Addison (DNP).
Leopards 95 Derby Trailblazers 82
A stunning performance saw the Big Cats pick up the Division One play-off crown at the Amaechi Centre on Sunday.
The win completed the best season in the Big Cats’ eight-year EBL history as they added the season’s final piece of silverware to the National Cup and Division One regular season title.
Vernon Teel picked up his third MVP award of the season as he finished with another triple-double of 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists to lead them to victory. Fellow American Ousman Krubally also had another stand-out game with a 34 point, 17 rebound double-double, with David Buchberger adding 17 points and nine boardsfree.
The Big Cats had to overcome a poor start and curious refereeing which saw both Dejan Mihevc and Buchberger collect technical fouls before collecting their 25th win in their final 26 games.
Trailblazers started strongly with a 7-0 run, with Teel picking up two early fouls, but Coach of the Year Dejan Mihevc stayed with his star guard though and Leopards started the comeback when Teel drained a trey with three minutes on the clock. Zak Wells gave Leopards their first lead of the game when he converted a Teel assist with three minutes on the clock, and Simonas Bublys hit a bucket with 20 seconds remaining in the first period to put the Big Cats up 20-16 at the first break.
Rishi Kakad cut that lead when he sunk a trey to open the second quarter but a pair of Krubally scores split by a Buchberger trey gave the Big Cats an eight point lead with 8:20 on the clock. A Lukas Volskis three midway through the second extended the Leopards’ lead to ten and ended the heckling for his loud basketball boots. But Martyn Gayle went on a streak of his own, scoring two threes in 15 seconds, including a transition score with a defender in his face.
He knocked down a third shortly after making it a five point game and forcing a Leopards timeout. The margin stayed the same at half-time as Buchberger drained a pair at the foul line and after 20 minutes Teel had 17 points, six assists and eight rebounds.
Teel opened the second half scoring and Leopards piled on the defensive pressure in the third period, and Krubally nearly brought basket down when stole the ball finishing in a massive left-handed jam.
Bublys put Leopards 17 up going into the final play of the third period and although Kakad hit a pair of free-throws, the Big Cats went into the fourth quarter with a 70-55 lead.
The Trailblazers chipped away at the lead in the early stages of the fourth period as Leopards tried to run down the club, but a Buchberger free-throw with six minutes remaining kept the Big Cats ahead by 11.
A Kakad floater and a pair of free throws made a dent in Leopards’ lead at 77-71 but Krubally answered with a pair of baskets to take control again, and Krubally and Teel both remained cool at the foul line down the stretch before the Big Cats’ celebrations could really start.
Leopards: O Krubally (34), V Teel (32), D Buchberger (17), S Bublys (4), L Volskis (3), Z Wells (3), B Wilkinson (2), D Norton, J Steel, J Lockwood, J Cabey, R Alexis
David overjoyed with success
DAVID Buchberger was delighted to finish the season by lifting the play-off crown at the Amarchi Centre on Sunday.
“What a great weekend.” said the shooting guard, who is now back in the States.
“Officially winning the play-off championship and locking up the treble for the season was an incredibly rewarding way to finish things.
“The games we played versus Leicester and Derby were also both very competitive, which made winning that much more satisfying. There are so many positive things that could be said about so many different players and people affiliated with the club, but I think at this point it is best to let the results of the season speak for themselves.
“After starting the season losing our first three league games, and then moving to 1-4 in the league over our first five games, what an accomplishment it is to finish with an overall record of 20-4 in the league standing atop the table, winning the National Cup, and winning the Playoff Championship.
“We went on a great run in 2012, and I think it is awesome how we were able to turn a season that started out a little shaky in the beginning, to one of the most successful and exciting in the history of the Leopards. I think everyone who was a part of things this year will remember the success for years to come; I think we made a lot of people really proud of the Leopards.
“And, as the Leopards continue to move forward in the future hopefully everyone will be able to look back someday and see that this year was only a shadow of the success that is to come.”
Lukas delighted with final win
LUKAS Volskis was delighted after the Big Cats collected the Division One play-off crown at the Amaechi Centre on Sunday.
“Where do I even begin talking about the weekend?” said the 21-year-old who first joined the Leopards in 2007.
“We finished the season by winning the EBL Playoffs which totalled three championships in one year, I think that’s nothing less than outstanding.
“I really enjoyed the weekend as it featured the best of the best in EBL basketball and it was great to be a part of such an event.
“I especially want to thank our fans and our management who took their time and effort to come down all the way to Manchester. I honestly feel like we have the best fans in the league, other teams may bring more but our fans always make it seem like we are playing at home.
“Also I want to thank my team and my coaches for an incredible year, it feels a bit surreal in terms of the success we’re had especially when I didn’t even know if I was going to play basketball at the start of the year.”
Volskis clearly enjoyed the most successful season in the Leopards’ eight year history: “This was by far my most enjoyable season especially being one of the Leopards’ longest players so to win everything just made it that extra bit special.
“So overall, I would just like to thank everyone for their efforts throughout the whole year and I hope everyone has a great relaxing summer!”