Al Riyadi, Gorgan look to finish off foes as WASL Final 8 tickets within reach
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Eyes are definitely on Al Riyadi and Gorgan if they can take care of business in the WASL-West Asia League Semi-Finals this week.
Two of the league's favorites took down their respective foes last week in dominant fashion, moving a win away from meeting one another in a best-of-3 Final that would also become practically another hardcourt battle between Lebanon and Iran.
But it's not just pride alone that fuels both clubs. A win would not only set up the rematch between old foes, but would also bring them to the WASL Final 8 -- finalists and the third-placers from Gulf and West Asia are granted a spot in the June meet.
Al Riyadi will open up this week's West Asia action on Wednesday night, hosting inter-city rivals Beirut Club at the Saeb Salam Stadium in Manara.
Thursday night, meanwhile, will see Shahrdari Gorgan and ZobAhan Esfahan duke it out once more on neutral grounds at the Azadi Basketball Hall in Tehran.
Sweet payback, finally?
The Al Riyadi-Beirut Club series was a rematch of last season's Lebanese Basketball Championship Finals and the former headed into the clash with vengeance on their minds after failing to keep the crown in Manara.
Sure, it would be better to get back at their tormentors in their own league, but Game 1 of the Semis became a stage for the team of Coach Ahmad El Farran to show how bent they are to get even following a 104-77 win -- in the opponents' home floor.
Now, they'll be having the homecourt advantage in Game 2, where a raucous crowd is expected to show up -- and as they aim for a sweep.
To play in front of their home fans will also be added fuel for new guy Duop Reath, who's looking forward to playing at the Saeb Salam Stadium as his club debut happened on the road, which saw him impress in the Game 1 victory with 24 points.
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The 26-year-old caused damage alongside Kevin Murphy despite the fact that he only joined Al Riyadi mere days before the Semi-Finals opener, to the point that usual providers like Wael Arakji got himself plenty of rest that should keep them fresh for Game 2.
Arakji and Co., though, are expected to come up big in the possible series clincher to move a step closer of winning every championship they could this year.
But not to be forgotten, of course, are Beirut Club and the adjustments they'd make in trying to live another week to keep their title hopes alive.
Coach Ahmad Yamout and his wards suffered a big blow to their campaign when they lost Jordan Jackson to a knee injury in Game 1, and so it would be intriguing to see how they will adapt to the situation to avoid a sweep.
New signee Stacy Davis IV plus veterans Ali Haidar and Kenny Hayes carried much of the load in last week's loss, and the trio are surely out to double the effort in the do-or-die encounter as they also try to rally for their injured brother-in-arms.
Will mastery be kept?
It was basically an encore of what happened in the 2021-22 Iranian Basketball Super League Finals as Gorgan dealt a 91-72 beating to take Game 1 of their Semis tiff.
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For starters, Gorgan took the league crown by besting ZobAhan 3-1 in the best-of-5 affair, going back-to-back while extending their opponents' title drought to 20 years.
Now, they have a chance to assert mastery over their budding rivals in Game 2, an opportunity they surely do not want to miss given what's at stake -- and with the manner of their victory in the best-of-3 opener last Thursday.
Among the challenges imposed by ZobAhan entering the Semis was their no-quit mantra, and they showed as much in Game 1 after chopping down a 23-point gap to just five in the fourth quarter behind Arman Zangeneh and Ali Kashani.
But unlike the teams they faced in the past, Gorgan were quick to regain focus, with Perry Petty and Mohammad Jamshidi leading the key 10-0 run that restored order. The whole unit would finish strongly on the way to the 19-point win.
That kind of resolve were enough to leave Coach Mehran Hatami satisfied but it isn't lost on the team how dangerous the ZobAhan could be.
And so, they expect another tough matchup ahead against a team that is also expected to welcome back Blaz Mesicek into the fold after missing Game 1.
The Slovenian guard played an important role in beating Al Naft in the Qualification to Semi-Finals, and he should be another figure to look out for as ZobAhan are expected to come out the hardest with their season on the line.