Sharjah reigned supreme in the under-16 semi-finals of the NSL, knocking off heavyweight Dubai teams and their respective stars.
Hosts Victoria International School Sharjah (VISS) pulled off their second straight nail-biting win as they defeated The Philippine School (TPS) 49-44 yesterday.
TPS entered the match-up unbeaten led by stalwart guard John Carlo Bautista, who was near the top of the scoring leaders for the age group.
Instead, it was VISS point guard Enver Kapetanovik who shone brightest with 16 points, while the formidable defence of VISS slowed down the fast-break attack of TPS and held Bautista to 14 hard-earned points.
“It’s about playing team defence,” VISS coach Russell McKie said. “It’s the old adage, defence wins games. Offence gets the crowd excited. We managed to strike that balance today.
“Our defence has always been generally strong. Even when we’ve played bad on offence and haven’t clicked in previous games, our defence has been strong and that’s what’s held us in game.
"We pride ourselves on being able to switch between man and zone, being able to step up into a press and utilise the skills and abilities we have.”
TPS appeared headed for another lopsided victory when they led 17- 11 after a fast-paced first quarter. VISS, however, responded with a run to start the second and the two teams went back and forth until the later stages.
VISS pulled ahead for good in a pivotal moment at the start of the fourth quarter when Kapetanovik knocked down a 3-pointer and converted a free throw as TPS received a technical foul for having too many players on the court.
This time, VISS didn’t need to engineer a comeback as they did last week in the quarter-finals.
“Heading into this game, we were more in charge,” McKie said. “Most of the boys were switched on. It was rather our game to lose than it was their’s to win as we got into the game. The confidence in my team has just grown and grown.”
The under-16 finals will be an all-Sharjah affair after New Filipino Private School (NFPS) also punched their ticket to the championship with a 36-28 win over Dubai International Academy (DIA).
NFPS didn’t play fluidly on offence, but their defensive aggressiveness made the difference.
The full-court trap made it difficult for DIA star point guard Tanishq Sughnani to have much room to breathe and forced countless turnovers, leading to easy baskets. Sughnani came in with 78 points scored in the tournament, but finished with just 11 in the loss.
While fellow guard Francis Cristie provided a much-needed nine points, the offence was otherwise limited.
“Our shooting wasn’t really that good, but the defence made it possible for us to get some open shots,” NFPS coach Aris Peralta said.
“We scouted [Sughnani and Cristie], so we knew they were going to be the focal point of their offence, so we focused on them.
“We look at the stats and [Sughnani] is one of the highest scorers. Our players are not in the top 10 for points. So what we did is tried to contain him.”
Eric Pancito earned player of the game honours for his 17 points to lead NFPS. Neither team had much rhythm, with the first points coming from NFPS six-and-a-half minutes into the game.
DIA clawed back from an 18-4 halftime hole to get within two possessions in the fourth quarter, but the constant pressure of NFPS was too much to overcome.
The finals will be a rematch of the group play meeting, which NFPS claimed in a 32-23 victory. Either way, one Sharjah team will be crowned under-16 champion of the UAE next Saturday
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