CCPL Heat’s Nheb Chansophal grabs a rebound ahead of Sabay Salty Crabs’ Sean Looney (R) during their Cambodia Basketball Challenge semifinal on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post
Top-ranked Sabay Salty Crabs and giant killers Phnom Penh Dragons made it to the title round of the inaugural Cambodia Basketball Challenge after coming through their semifinal contests in differing styles at the Beeline Arena on Saturday.
The Crabs recovered from a tardy start to make a strong recovery that helped them to stave off a late rally from CCPL Heat in the first semifinal. The Crabs, who topped the eight-team league, defeated the sixth-ranked Heat 58-47.
The fifth-ranked Dragons slayed the league’s second best side Raid-Alaxan FR 75-61, maintaining a healthy scoring pattern in all four quarters, though the first was even 18 and the second saw Raid-Alaxan take a narrow three point lead. The Dragons made the last two quarters their very own, comfortably riding home their advantage.
The championship game between the Crabs and the Dragons will be held this coming Saturday.
The Heat and the Crabs took time to shake off the rustiness imposed on them by a near month-long break. That explained in part a poor first quarter that produced a combined 14 points.
A tight Heat defence and quick rotations piled up on the Crabs to stifle them from scoring, though the Heat themselves could not find the baskets more often than they promised.
The second quarter saw the Crabs strengthening their defence and resorting to straight shooting. The tactics worked, with Mong Ratana hitting three of the four three-pointers credited to the Crabs.
Left with few options, the Heat had to rely on their shooters opening up the space for the Crabs’ Kim Vengnguon to post as many as 13 points. The Crabs built so quickly on this advance that the lead at one stage was a sizeable 27 points going into the last 10 minutes.
If the Crabs thought the deal was sealed, they had a rude shock in store. The Heat mounted such a strong counter attack that they were out hustling the Crabs in almost every possession, constantly beating them down the floor to rattle up baskets and sneak up to within five points.
Unfazed by this sudden twist, the Crabs kept going through two three-point strikes by Im Pronita. The Heat were still in it with a minute to go, but four free throws by Kim Vengnguon ensured victory for the Crabs and a place in the final.
For the winners, Kim Vengnguon topped the score charts with 25 points with Im Pronita emerging next best at 11. Kim Ran, who inspired the Heat fightback, was his side’s top man with 15 points.
The Dragons and Raid-Alaxan matched stride for stride and basket for basket in a first quarter that produced 18 points a piece.
The towering Aimar Sabayo took charge for Raid-Alaxan in the second quarter to help his side to a slender three-point lead at 36-39.
The Dragons managed to rope in the elusive Sabayo in the early part of the third while launching their own offence through Mark Nabong, whose tricky dribbling and spin moves netted him 11 points in that crucial phase.
The Dragons took a five point lead into the fourth quarter even as Raid-Alaxan switched back to Sabayo for counter attack. The Dragons successfully crowded Sabayo and kept him out of the rim while kicking their own game to a higher gear and a faster pace.
What followed was a slew of uncontested baskets for the Dragons and Raid-Alaxan found the lead too hot to handle.
Nabong was the leading scorer for the Dragons with 21 points. Kelvin Chan lent admirable support with 14.
The best performances for Raid-Alaxan came from Aimar Sabayo (19 points) and Bobeth Cervanez (14).
To contact the reporter on this story: H S Manjunath at [email protected]