Mersey Tigers and Sheffield Sharks will contest the 2011 British Basketball League Playoff final in a repeat of the 2011 BBL Cup final.
Mersey Tigers came up short in January's final, but will be looking for revenge this Saturday as they look to complete an amazing treble. For Sheffield they will be looking to win their second trophy of 2011 at the expense of the Tigers.
Sheffield came from behind to defeat the Newcastle Eagles over two legs, winning the second leg 98-78 thanks to a sublime performance from Olu Babalola who bagged 32 points and 13 rebounds as the Eagles end the season without a trophy for the first time since 2004.
It was Newcastle who came away from Sports Central with a 76-68 victory in the first leg. Andrew Lasker hitting 27 points as the Eagles drew first blood.
The Sharks though bit back few days later at the EIS.
Despite the Eagles starting the brighter of the two sides, the hosts would not give up in the return leg. As Babalola was fighting his own battle against a determined Newcastle side. His influence kept Sheffield in it after the first, with Eagles taking a slender one-point leading into the second period (26-25). Sharks though were down nine on aggregate.
The aggregate lead didn't change during the second period, but Sharks and Eagles exchanged a couple of lead changes to begin second quarter proceedings. A Babalola bucket giving the Sharks a 33-31 lead. Newcastle responded though with a 9-0 run to take the score out to 40-33 and silence the buzzing Sheffield faithful.
Sharks would hit back and close the gap at the interval to 46-42, but with Eagles leading on both counts, it was starting to look grim for the hosts.
All of a sudden, a transformation occurred within the Sheffield Sharks. A 12-4 Sharks burst in the third quarter changed the outlook of the game, as suddenly Babalola's supporting cast finally showed up. Despite Eagles still leading on aggregate, Sharks' excellent play on both ends of the court gave them a 56-54 lead, which was followed by another 14-5 surge which tied the game overall heading to the final stanza. Sharks up 75-63.
Lasker would give Newcastle the lead overall with a bucket in the early exchanges of the fourth but it would be the last time the Eagles would have the advantage. As Sheffield blitzed their visitors with a game-changing 15-1 tear, seven of those coming from Paul Williams.
Newcastle couldn't find a way back despite the efforts of Lasker and Reggie Jackson, the latter leading the Eagles with 28 points. Sheffield won the game and got the aggregate win 166-154.
"We always knew that we were in the game; we just had to keep going and get on a good run," Sharks player/coach Atiba Lyons said.
Mersey Tigers enjoyed a slightly more comfortable passage to Saturday's final, as they disposed of the Cheshire Jets. Winning both legs, and taking it on aggregate 165-143.
An injury-hit Tigers squad, missing Great Britain star Andrew Sullivan led for most of the first leg and were in control from the beginning. Andrew Thomson leading all scorers with 22 personal, as Mersey recorded a 79-64 away success at the Northgate Arena.
Cheshire, who were looking to claw their way back to the series began nervously, as did their north-west rivals but they got the better of the Tigers in the opening ten minutes of play, leading by one (27-26). Tigers still had a comfortable lead overall.
It was the the second period where Mersey decided to step it up a gear.
A David Aliu-led 10-2 run gave Tigers a 36-28 lead, and despite four points from Irishman Colin O'Reilly for Cheshire, Tigers didn't fade away. James Jones bagged a triple to restore a comfortable margin both in the tie and on aggregate. Tigers closed out the half on top 45-34.
Unfortunately for Cheshire, there was no miracle comeback, as the Tigers piled on more points to set-up Saturday's showdown with the Sharks. Beating Cheshire 86-79. James Jones hitting 23 points for the victors.
John Hobbs for TalkBasket.net