More heroics or redemption? Caledonia Gladiators vs Cheshire Phoenix preview

Cheshire Phoenix and Caledonia Gladiators will face off in the first round of the Play-offs in a rematch of that Trophy final in Glasgow.

It was the shot seen around the country as David Sloan’s buzzer-beating three in the corner, in front of the Phoenix bench and fans broke their hearts while securing Caledonia’s first piece of silverware in two decades in March.

And now, more than a month later, Cheshire have a chance to settle the score as they will be returning to the scene – albeit in the hall next door – over the two-legged affair. And if the league record is anything to go by, this series could not be more even.

Both sides have two victories each in the four Championship games played, with all wins coming at home.

Bouncing back from Trophy final disappointment

Since the Trophy final, the Phoenix have rebounded admirably, going 6-2 in the eight games since that loss with big wins over Manchester Giants and Leicester Riders to name a few.

Through the electrifying offensive skill of Larry Austin Jr., who plays at his best when in the open floor, averaging 15.9 points, 4.8 assists and a league-best 2.6 steals a game this season, Cheshire have a floor general who can torture defences and put points on the board quickly.

Not limited to Austin Jr., Marcus Evans has bounced back since the Trophy final, leading Cheshire in points in three of their last eight games, heading into the post-season averaging 14.6 points on 43.5% shooting from the field, and 31.8% from three-point range.

Cheshire will also look to versatile British forward Jamell Anderson for veteran leadership as well as his devastating inside, outside game.

Shooting 51.7% from two-point reach along with 34.2% from three-point territory, Anderson has shown tremendous consistency this season offensively as well as defensively, where he pulls down 4.7 rebounds, limiting second chance opportunities and 1.9 steals a contest.

It started well, but can they recover?

Following the Trophy win, the Caledonia Gladiators have had mixed fortunes as their first domestic championship saw them win their next three games, but lose three of their last four heading into the Play-offs.

There is an abundance of talent on the Gladiators roster, most notably forward Fahro Alihodzic (13.2ppg and 7.3rpg), Al Durham (17ppg) and the Trophy final MVP himself, Sloan who leads the team at close to 17.9 points.

Alongside the efficient Alihodzic, Princeton Onwas will look to have a big series inside with Caledonia having an advantage over Cheshire in the forward position.

The Gladiators hold the advantage in terms of overall rebounding as they average 35.8 a game compared with the Phoenix’s 31.7 – only Sheffield pull down less per contest.

Caledonia also average 10.2 offensive rebounds a game compared to Cheshire’s 8.2, so for the Caledonia to have the upper hand in this first round tie, they need to take advantage of their second-chance opportunities while limiting their counterparts.

Ones To watch

For both sides, they both need to play to their strengths with the Gladiators – who are a decent transition team – finding that going inside will help them more whereas Cheshire need to play in the open floor and pick up the pace as they are the quicker team on paper.

Fahro Alihodzic, Caledonia Gladiators
Position Power Forward
Height 6’10
Age 33
MPG 23.6
PPG 13.2
RPG 7.3
APG 1.8

Caledonia’s forward line will be led by Alihodzic, who needs to play to his strengths inside. His inside presence could be troublesome for the Phoenix.

Ones to watch

Larry Austin Jr.
Position Point Guard
Height 6’2
Age 27
MPG 29.2
PPG 15.9
RPG 6.1
APG 4.8

And for the Phoenix, their offensive play will be dictated by Austin Jr.. He needs to play to his strength, which is in the open floor and if he is on form, the Phoenix, as a team, will be too.

What they’re saying

“We don’t give up, we’re ready to fight and we’re hard to beat – all of those things are a good characteristic to have.” Phoenix Head Coach Ben Thomas said.

“There’s not as much pressure on us as there is on other teams to finish in the top two or three or whatever it might be. We know where we lie in terms of how much we spend compared to other teams and outperform that year in, year out. As a Head Coach, though, I haven’t got past the first round of the Play-offs and we’re hoping to change that this year.”

Game one will be in Ellesmere Port on Friday night before the series moves to Scotland on Saturday afternoon. You can get your tickets for both games by clicking here, or watch the action live on the British Basketball League YouTube channel.

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