CUBBC have lost seven players since last season Harry Normanton

CUBBC 60

UoNBC 84

University Sports Centre, BUCS Midlands 1A

Nottingham extended their unbeaten start to the season and condemned their hosts to their third defeat in four games, beating Cambridge 84-60 on Wednesday night.  There were lots of reasons for encouragement, though, for a developing Blues team adjusting to the loss of seven players since last season. 

Not intimidated by their high-flying visitors, Cambridge flew out of the gates.  For the first quarter they dominated the ‘offensive glass’ (hoovering up most of the shots that rebounded off the rim or backboard) and were aggressive in the ‘paint’ (the area closest to the basket).  Ideally one would always shoot in this part of the court, but it tends to be the most congested with defenders, so getting there requires considerable physicality.  The Blues showed that and more in the first quarter, repeatedly sending Nottingham defenders sprawling as they powered towards the rim. 

Point guard Ricard Arelaguet led the way, drawing a foul while scoring a driving layup (a one handed shot from close to the basket that is bounced off the backboard), then scoring the subsequent ‘free throw’ to earn his team three points.  And the result of this willingness to crash into the paint was that it cleared space at the ‘perimeter’ – the three point line which forms an arc twenty feet from the basket.  Midway through the quarter, good ball movement earned power forward Riccardo Masina an open look from three, and the Cambridge bench rose as one as it arced into the hoop, giving Cambridge the lead, 15-13.  They would keep their noses in front for the rest of the quarter, and when Florian Popp put away an offensive rebound with the final play of the period, they led 25-22.

In truth, it could have been more.  The Blues outplayed their visitors defensively as well as offensively, and Nottingham were only able to keep the game close thanks to several easy baskets from steals.  In the second quarter, though, they began to flex their muscle, led by star small forward C. Bruton.  At the start of the period he anticipated a Cambridge pass, stole the ball, and charged the length of the court, and drew a foul on a spinning layup, then drained the extra point. 

For the rest of the game he would control his team’s offence, showing a devastating combination of power, athleticism and shooting accuracy.  After the game, Cambridge coach Tim Weal shook his head, ‘he’s the best player we’ve seen all year, his shot’s so smooth, it’s effortless’.  Nevertheless, in the second quarter the Blues were able to contain Bruton to a degree, often by marking him with two players, and at half time the game still hung in the balance, with Nottingham leading 44-41.

Any hopes of an upset were dashed at the start of the third-quarter, though.  Nottingham seemed to find another gear, grabbing every loose ball and draining every shot, while Cambridge couldn’t quite make their attempts fall in.  And as their deficit grew, Cambridge became increasingly frantic, often resorting to ‘hero ball’ – attempting to generate points as individuals rather than passing the ball around to develop a good look.  The visitors scored the first seventeen points of the half, and although Cambridge battled gamely, there was no way back.  Coach Weil put it simply: ‘We came out flat.  When you play a good team, they make you pay for it, and they made us pay in a hurry.’ 

Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives to take from the game for a team still getting to know each other.  Captain Dami Adebayo said ‘I’m really proud of my team for the first half performance’, and coach Weil concurred: ‘that was our best half of the season’.  The key, both agreed, was that ‘we met their intensity’.  Now, says Adebayo, it is a case of improving fitness and focus, and above all of ‘learning to trust each other’.  If they can do that, he believes, ‘we can play with any team in this league’. 

Cambridge: J. Hauge, A. Priddey, R. Arelaguet, R. Masina, F. Cultrera di Montesano, Z. Lenox, F. Popp, D. Panayiotou, D. Adebayo, L. Skorcic, A. Walsh, M. Krstajic

Nottingham: Y. Kimamoto, B. Amini, B. Gunduz, D. Carvaldo, J. Smith, G. Purnell, C. Bruton, A. Pratchett, O. Williams, L. Stewart, G. Garcia

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