Basketball: Killester clip Eagles' wings to stop rot and seal final spot
KILLESTER arrested their recent slide to keep alive their hopes of retaining the Superleague National Cup.
They will meet UCD Marian in an all-Dublin final in two weeks' time, as UL Eagles and Ulster Elks were unable to match the men from the capital.
The northsiders' coach Mark Keenan was over the moon with his charges, who had lost twice in a row in the league after an eight-month unbeaten streak. Their wobble is now consigned to the memory banks, as they swept UL Eagles aside with a 67-58 win.
"We're absolutely thrilled," Keenan said. "We came back after two disappointing games and got it right. If we had been a poor team, we would have lost tonight. It's great to be in the final. UCD are a good team, and did really well to come back against Elks. The final will be a good Dublin derby, and we're delighted to be in it."
There was little to separate the Superleague's top two in the opening exchanges.
Isaac Westbrooks and Jermain Turner were in typically dangerous form, but UL used their own considerable physicality to keep the reigning champions within reach.
Turner helped himself to eight points as Killester established a 20-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
UL responded with Rob Lynch and Scott Kinevane hitting successive three-pointers to bring UL to within three. Both sides were working overtime on defence. Killester re-established their six-point advantage thanks to some sterling work from Isaac Westbrooks. Paddy Kelly extended the lead to nine, at 34-35, just before the half-time whistle.
UL ratcheted up the pressure in the second half, but Killester were resolute in protecting their lead. UL found it difficult to make any significant inroads into the deficit as Killester went into the final quarter leading 52-39.
The champions stretched their lead to 19. The Eagles had a mountain to climb, Killester's defence proving almost impenetrable. UL staged a mini-fighback towards the end of the quarter, but the margin was too great and they were left to rue another missed opportunity to dethrone Killester.
UCD Marian coach Fran Ryan was ecstatic after his side secured a place in the final for the first time in their history following an 80-72 victory over Ulster Elks.
"We are delighted," said Ryan. "We made some huge shots -- Dan James, what a game, he was out with the flu for three weeks, he was out injured for two weeks and he had exams, and now we virtually have a full team back."
The Elks started well and led 20-7 at the end of the first quarter, but James and Conor Meany led the fightback. James Crowder pitched in with a three, as Marian took control. James and Meany continued their rampage in the fourth quarter, Meany taking his tally for the game to 25 points as Marian secured a historic win.
Team Montenotte Hotel Cork will take on DCU Mercy in a repeat of last year's women's final after they battled past Wildcats and Killester.
A 71-54 win for the Cork side delighted their coach Mark Scannell, who wants his side to avenge last year's defeat.
"I think this was the final that basketball needed," he said. "Hopefully the loss last year can stand to us. Maybe we'll have a bit of extra hunger after losing to them last year."