Leopards look to make title push
PUBLISHED: 17:00 27 February 2014
Big fortnight for Big Cats
Leopards head into a key fortnight in which the play their title rivals on the back of a comfortable 82-53 win at Medway Park Crusaders.
The Big Cats travel to second placed Reading Rockets tomorrow (Saturday) before hosting Manchester Magic at the Brentwood Centre on Sunday (4pm).
And they then head to Hemel Storm the following Saturday, and coach Robert Youngblood knows the importance of the next fortnight.
He said: “They’re three really important games for us, and if we can continue to play well and get the three wins, we’ll be in pole position to win the league.”
Rockets and Magic met each other in last Saturday’s National Trophy final, with Reading running out comfortable 88-71 winners after a blistering start.
The Berkshire club now hold all pieces of top division silverware having won the league and play-off double last season and the National Cup in January.
Reading have 13 wins from their 16 games, but a victory for the Big Cats on Saturday would see them move level.
The sides have met three times this season, with Leopards winning 86-80 in the Trophy group stage before Reading knocked them out of the National Cup with a 79-75 win at the Brentwood Centre and repeated the trick in December’s league game with an 86-75 victory.
Fifth-placed Magic are the only realistic title challengers to the top three and go into Saturday’s home game with Newham sitting in fifth place with an 11-5 record.
A poor performance against the Manchester side saw Leopards go down 82-68 when the sides met at Brentwood in the Trophy, but some key decisions down the stretch in the league game at the Amaechi Centre saw them unlucky to lose 81-73 in overtime.
Saturday’s win at Medway Park who included four former Leopards proved to be straightforward for Youngblood’s side as they led for all but the opening couple of minutes.
Howard Crawford led the Big Cats for the fourth straight game with 20 points, while Carl Josey added 12 as Youngblood rested his starting players from late in the third period.
Crusaders scored either side of a Kris Clark three-point play to give the home side a 4-3 lead, but seven Crawford points and a trey from Ish Fontaine helped Leopards into the first break with a 14-13 advantage.
Fontaine buried a three to open the second period and with Shaun Durant adding five points and Josey four, the Big Cats gradually extended their lead to go into the locker room 40-31 up.
The third quarter proved to be the clincher for the visitors as they outscored Crusaders 25-11, with Josey hitting back-to-back threes and Crawford adding another seven points to his tally.
Clark’s basket with two minutes of the period remaining proved to be the last time any of the starting five saw any action, and a score from George Naiwo sent them into the final break 65-42 ahead.
Courtney Van Beest made it a 26-point game early in the fourth period and back-to-back treys from Iaon Nickson kept Leopards comfortably ahead before the Welsh international wrapped up Leopards 13th league win of the season.