Newcastle, who are newcomers to the top flight, have struggled to find their form so far this season, arriving in the Dragons’ Den with only one win from their opening eight league fixtures, having only beaten bottom of the table side, Lancashire Spinners. Their only other victory had come in the National Trophy, against none other than the Dragons, when they pulled off a hard fought 73-70 victory in the Dragons’ Den.
Bradford were determined to put records straight and came out of the starting blocks with clear purpose. The opening quarter was a totally one-sided affair, with the Dragons scoring almost at will, defending with great tenacity and picking up almost every loose ball and rebound. In fact, you could almost be forgiven for assuming that it was game over at the end of that opening period as the Dragons were in total control, with a commanding twenty-point lead (30-10).
But, in Basketball, twenty points at that stage of the game is by no means unsurmountable, a point which was well demonstrated by the visiting Knights. Some harsh words from their coach, Ian Hewitt, triggered an improved performance in the second quarter, whilst Bradford, who were maybe resting on their laurels, after the opening period, seemed to have lost their rhythm.
As the two teams left the court at half time, a degree of parity had been restored to the game, with the gap reduced to twelve points (48-36).
If anybody was expecting the second quarter to act as a wake-up call to the Dragons, they were only to be disappointed, and with less than two minutes of the third period remaining, Newcastle’s 6’8” Croatian forward, Fran Urli, hit his three-point jump shot to put the visitors ahead for the first time (52-54).
The Dragons closed out the penultimate period with baskets from Ricky Fetske and Rafi Saipe (sponsored by Made4Fighters) to put themselves back in control going into the final quarter (60-57).
The lead swung back and forth during that final period but, with only twenty-one seconds remaining, Urli hit another three-pointer to put the visitors five points ahead. Although Bradford hit back with a three of their own, through Rihards Sulcs (sponsored by Templewood Photography), it wasn’t enough to prevent the Knights from claiming the win (79-76).
Fetske and Gooding shared the top slot for the Dragons’ scorers, with 18 points each, with Fetske also taking fourteen rebounds to record a double-double. Saipe, who picked up the official Taco Bell Payer of the Game award, hit 15 points, whilst Sulcs also contributed 14 to the Dragons total.
Bradford had an early opportunity to put the disappointment behind them, when they travelled to Loughborough, for the following day’s cup fixture.
Once again, the Dragons got off to a fantastic start, taking the opening period by eleven points (12-23). However, Loughborough fought back and, at half-time, the difference was reduced to just three points, at 34-37.
The hosts piled on the pressure in the third quarter, taking a six-point lead into the closing period (57-51) and with only three and a half minutes remaining, the game looked beyond Bradford’s reach, with Loughborough holding a clear ten-point advantage (73-63). Against all odds, Bradford fought themselves back into the lead (75-76) with only fifty-six seconds remaining. However, the hosts had the final word, pulling off a three-point victory (79-76) to claim their place in the semi-finals.
The game’s high scorer was Bradford’s Sulcs, who hit an impressive 24 points. He was supported by Fetske (19 points) and Jermaine Laing (14 points). For the hosts Alex Roberts and Max Richardson topped the scoring charts with 15 and 14 points respectively.
When asked to comment on the weekends action, Dragons’ coach, Chris Mellor merely stated, “It was disappointing to lose both games by small margins.”
The games don’t get any easier for Bradford as they face another double header next weekend.
The under 16s were also in action, travelling to City of Leeds Black and taking a convincing win, 37-84. Arnas Kildisas bucketed 20 points for the winners, supported by Great Osobor (19 points), Olufemi Bright (18 points) and Theo Antwi (17 points).
Photographs of Ricky Fetske, Marcus Gooding and Rihards Sulcs: © Alex Daniel Photography
Photograph of Rafi Saipe: © Templewood Photography