19 September, 2017
02 May, 2018
23 Tony Bishop Jr | Photo: Per Bille/www.ry-foto.dk
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Bakken Bears and ESSM Le Portel looking to extend international dream in Quarter-Finals

AARHUS (FIBA Europe Cup) - Two season-long fairytale story lines are set to intertwine in the Quarter-Finals, with fate pitting French stand-outs ESSM Le Portel and Danish champions Bakken Bears against each other.

The Eric Girard-coached Frenchmen have been nothing short of spectacular in their maiden international campaign right from the Qualification Rounds, while their opponents to-be from Denmark also turned heads every step of the way.

However, only one of them will earn the right to continue their European journey, with the first head-to-head clash taking place on Tuesday in Aarhus and the return fixture played in a week's time in France.

Having been the most dominant team in the competition, Le Portel entered the Play-Offs with an 11-game winning streak in the FIBA Europe Cup spanning the Regular Season and the Second Round, but had the wind knocked out of their sales with a 72-55 defeat against Dinamo Sassari right off the bat.

As most fairy tales go, though, there was a happy ending in store for the French club, who continued their march in Europe after a 100-81 overtime triumph in the second game on their home court, shaking free of a 17-point first-leg deficit thanks to a 33-point, 12-rebound double-double by Franklin Hassell.

"We have played 16 games in the FIBA Europe Cup, losing just twice. For little newcomers from a small village, that's not bad at all," Le Portel's head coach said after the miraculous escape.

"Le Portel has shown that it has a great team, with ambition and heart. We are capable of doing big things. The result from [last] Wednesday is an amazing result on a European stage."

Bakken Bears have a quite a story to tell as well, having already moved the marker in terms of the best-ever European performance by a club from Denmark, by simply qualifying for the Play-Offs.

They moved it one step further, when they knocked out Latvian powerhouse Ventspils 168-154 on aggregate after winning the first leg on the road with a decisive 93-73 scoreline. In the second game, they held on comfortably despite picking up an 81-75 defeat on the night.

"It feels like we have won the championship. We advanced to the next round and earned the right to play two more games. It's going to be fun," said team captain Nicolai Iversen, looking ahead.

Although a long Play-Off run might have seemed like a longshot at the beginning of the season, Bakken Bears and coach Steffen Wich are now hungry for more after defying the odds to get to the Quarter-Finals.

"The Bears threat is real," he smiled after getting past Ventspils. "The players are living a dream right now, but we are looking forward and want something more."

Bakken Bears v ESSM Le Portel

Time: Tuesday, 18:30 CET
Domestic Form: Second-seeded Bakken Bears began the Danish Basketball League Play-Offs with a 103-68 win over Copenhagen Wolfpack on Sunday, they lead 1-0 in the series; ESSM Le Portel climbed to 9th place in the French championship with an 87-62 win over Boulazac on Friday, improving to an 11-12 record
Key Matchup: Michel Diouf v Franklin Hassell
How They Qualified: ESSM Le Portel qualified for the Regular Season by beating BC Parma 148-129 on aggregate in FIBA Europe Cup Qualification Round 2…won Group A of the Regular Season with a 5-1 record...won Group I of the Second Round with a 6-0 record…defeated Dinamo Sassari 155-153 on aggregate in the Round of 16; Bakken Bears joined FIBA Europe Cup after being eliminated from the Basketball Champions League Qualification Round 2 by Donar Groningen, 169-163 on aggregate…finished 2nd in Group B of the Regular Season with a 4-2 record…won Group K of the Second Round with a 4-2 record…defeated Ventspils 168-154 on aggregate in the Round of 16.
Live Stream: YouTube.com/FIBA