WORCESTER Wolves started the new decade in style as they overcame perennial powerhouse Leicester Riders to win through to the BBL Cup final at Arena Birmingham.
Leicester went into Friday’s semi-final second leg decider holding a 66-63 advantage gained from December’s reverse fixture at the University of Worcester Arena.
And the East Midlands side looked odds-on to face Bristol Flyers in the showpiece final on January 26 when they raised into a 12 point lead in the opening quarter.
But Worcester drew a line in the sand, putting a lid over their basket to limit Riders to just a single point in the next five minutes while hurling in eighteen points of their own to dominate the rest of the evening for an eventual 83-71 triumph and a 146-137 aggregate win.
Coach Matt Newby praised his players’ resilience and said: “We took time to settle but the tough situations we have already faced this season have made us stronger, more connected and more disciplined. That came through for us today.”
“Leicester have been a trailblazing programme in the BBL.
“They’ve set the benchmark for the league. If you can get near matching those standards then you’re doing the right thing and that’s what we’ve done.”
Jordan Williams was Wolves’ sole offensive threat as the game began. When he went to the bench with ten points his replacement Amir Williams took over the scoring mantle, reducing Riders’ lead to 24-20 as the first quarter ended.
Cortez Edwards sank a three to bring the sides closer. Namon Wright got in the way of Raheem May-Thompson to be called for an unsportsmanlike foul, allowing the latter to slot in a double of free throws to move Worcester in front.
An upsurge in intensity shone through. Edwards jumped highest to rebound his own miss and kick the ball out for Mark Hughes to connect from outside the arc.
Jordan Williams proved unstoppable, continually overpowering defenders and standing straight to take charges, denying Leicester the chance to respond.
A 46-41 half-time advantage widened to 53-42 by midway through the third period once consecutive Kofi Josephs’ triples had swished through the net.
Wolves’ captain Maarten Bouwknecht joined the three-point shooting party and when he drove to the hoop in the second minute of the final quarter his side’s lead maximised at 67-48.
A demoralised Leicester hampered their own comeback by failing to find a way through their visitors’ defensive wall. Even consolation prizes of foul shots were not taken as they repeatedly converted only one of each pair they were awarded.
More sharpshooting from guards Edwards and Hughes and more blocked shots from Wolves’ big men further smoothed the path through to Birmingham.
A balanced scoring night saw Jordan Williams tab 18 points, closely followed by Edwards on 17. Hughes tallied 15 points with Amir Williams posting a dozen.
“We’re at our best when we have multiple contributors,” said Newby. “When players remain selfless and willing to make up for others’ mistakes then we will finish on top.”
“Our fans have been great and ought to have something to celebrate. They’ve stuck by the club through hard times and deserve to see us competing for silverware,” he said.
Wolves remain on the hunt for silverware tomorrow (Sunday) when they visit Cheshire Phoenix in the opening round of the BBL Trophy before both sides meet again at the University of Worcester Arena on Friday (January 10) in the league.