19 December, 2022
25 May, 2023
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Higher Stakes: Why these West Asia rivals could make it to the WASL Final 8

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Old rivalries are set to be witnessed by a wider audience when they all take the WASL-West Asia Semi-Finals stage starting Wednesday.

Beirut Club and Al Riyadi will dispute who's the best Lebanese side, while Gorgan and ZobAhan are set to engage in all-Iranian affair as both brackets feature the finalists of their respective domestic leagues from last season.

Of the four, Al Riyadi and ZobAhan made their way into the said stage through the Qualification to the Semi-Finals, with the former beating out Orthodox Amman while the latter booted out Al Naft to set up what should be an exciting Semi-FInals ahead.

The Qualification to the Semi-Finals took three games to finish and both Beirut Club and Gorgan surely have more than enough time to assess what's in store for them, for they earned the kind of luxury by being the first teams to reach the semis.

But it would be back to square one when the best-of-3 series begin, with the protagonists keen on not just upending their foes but to get to something bigger.

The two finalists plus the third-place finisher from both West Asia and Gulf leagues are assured of a spot to the highly-anticipated WASL Final 8 in June.

There's been much excitement surrounding the Final 8 since it will essentially pit some of the region's best clubs, and these West Asia League teams set to fight in the semis each have their own case of making it. Let's take a look.

BEIRUT CLUB: Fast-paced, well-balanced

Beirut Club were the first to reach the West Asia semis and that's big thanks to an attack so balanced and bannered by some of the league's best.

Already difficult to defend with the presence of veteran big man Ali Haidar plus the backcourt tandem of Kenny Hayes and Cleveland Thomas Jr., the squad added super scorer Shabazz Muhammad into the mix to help clinch the Semi-Finals berth.

There's no issue for Coach Ahmad Yamout in managing egos, for his team knows how to share the ball as they rack up 20.0 assists per game -- No. 2 in the league. That unselfishness has also allowed them to shoot 48.6 percent from the field.

And it's not just about the aforementioned players why Beirut Club have been solid all season. Their bench has been contributing 24.3 points, the most in West Asia.

But the league's best free-throw shooting team (79.5-percent) isn't all about offense. They're no. 1 in terms of limiting the opposing team's field goal percentage (40.9), including their three-point accuracy by holding them to just 24.8 percent.

They've also been making their foes pay dearly on errors, scoring an average of a league-tops 20.0 points off turnovers. Forcing TOs usually lead to fastbreak opportunities and they, too, capitalize on it by getting 22.3 points off transition.

AL RIYADI: Offensive accuracy as a recipe

The most titled Lebanese basketball club is dead-set on adding the WASL trophy to their collection and Al Riyadi can definitely do so with how they've been playing.

A two-time FIBA Asia Champions Cup winner, they are currently the best shooting team in the entire league - both in Gulf and West Asia - with 50.7 percent, which includes a 37.3 percent accuracy from rainbow country.

They're also the second-best scoring unit in West Asia with 90.1 points. And on the forefront of their attack has been the spitfire tandem of main man Wael Arakji (18.6 points) and new acquisition Kevin Murphy (28.0 points).

Game 3 of the Qualification to the Semi-Finals series versus Orthodox Amman saw the two combine for 51 to spearhead the 97-62 victory to bring the reigning FLB League kings to the semis.

That should send a strong message on how much of a problem against defenses those two could cause but Al Riyadi aren't just about them, for there are still others to take care of such as Hayk Gyokchyan, Amir Saoud, and Ate Majok, to name a few.

GORGAN: Star power with hustle

There's no denying that the star duo of Behnam Yakchali and Mohammed Jamshidi have been the major driving force behind Gorgan's WASL campaign.

Yakhchali, for one, is the team's leading scorer with 21.3 points, together with 5.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 2.3 steals. His long-time teammate, meanwhile, has norms of 18.0 markers, 4.0 boards, a team-best 5.8 dimes, and 1.8 swipes.

Look no further than in their Semi-FInals-clinching win over Al Naft in the Group Phase closer to see how important the two are. Yakhchali unloaded 29 points, while Jamshidi made 25 as they powered the club to the 101-91 victory.

However, they aren't just the causes of concern for other teams. There's also the seasoned Perry Petty, who's been contributing 19.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.5 steals for the defending Iranian Basketball Super League champions.

Not to be forgotten are the frontcourt duo of Sajjad Pazrofteh (11.8 points, 9.8 rebounds) and Antanas Udras (10.8 points, 7.5 rebounds), who are the main reasons why Gorgan are the no. 1 rebounding team in West Asia with 45.5 a game.

ZOBAHAN: Comeback kings

Let this be a reminder why it's extremely hard to bet against ZobAhan. Of all the ball clubs involved in WASL, none have wiped out as big a deficit as ably as they've done.

The Iranian club seized the early 1-0 lead in its Qualification to the Semi-Finals duel with Al Naft, coming back from 21 points down towards the 109-102 overtime win.

They eventually closed it out in Game 3, 95-83, although they nearly wrapped it up in Game 2, where they came back from as much as 30 points down but fell short. It could've been the biggest comeback in the Final Phase had they completed that.

But that grit-and-grind approach wasn't shown just in the playoffs. There had been flashes of which particularly in their last match of the Group Phase. They did lose to Orthodox Amman, 86-82, but not before rallying back from a 22-point deficit.

Much of that effectivity comes from the way they get everybody involved as proven by their league-best 20.1 assists per outing, with Sajjad Mashayekhi providing elite floor generalship with 20.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 6.5 dimes.

Providing major lifts as well are Arsalan Kazemi and Arman Zangeneh. Both big men averaging 14.3 points, with the former having 11.2 rebounds to his name.

There's also Amir Gholizadeh with his 13.8 points on a 31-percent clip from deep, with new guy Blaz Mesicek slowly proving his worth with 11.0 markers.

And, yes, defense has also been key for ZobAhan. They collect 10.0 per outing, which is the most in the entire league -- Gulf and West Asia combined.