13 November, 2023
08 May, 2024
16 Wael Arakji (RIY)
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Mastery, or vengeance? Rematches the theme of Season 2 Sub-Zone Finals

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say, and that would be the case for the teams slugging it out in the FIBA WASL Season 2 Sub-Zone Leagues' Finals.

Manama versus Kuwait Club

Tuesday, April 23
Khalifa Sport City, Isa Town, Bahrain
20:00 local time (GMT+3)

Rematches will be the theme for this season's best-of-three championship bouts, bannered by what has been a growing major rivalry between Manama and Kuwait Club starting Tuesday.

Their upcoming Gulf League Final series will be a tiebreaker of sorts after getting the best of one another back in the inaugural season. Kuwait Club swept Manama to claim the sub-zone title, but failed to win a double as the latter beat them to win the FIBA WASL crown.

But they both know that it will be different this time. Manama are coming into the finale as a heavy favorite with an 8-0 overall record, and would surely want to finish the Gulf League unscathed to bag home the title they missed out on winning last season.

"It's a blessing to get back to the Gulf Final. That's one our biggest goals, knowing that we lost last season. We're back and we're ready to fight," said Travin Thibodeaux.

A team sweeping a sub-zone is no longer new in the league. Kuwait Club did so but their perfect run ended back in the Group Phase, where they absorbed back-to-back losses.

They've been on a tear after that, though, coming into the Final riding a three-game winning streak that included a Semi-Final sweep of Kazma in a clash between Kuwaiti teams. Thus, the confidence on their part in defending their throne as Gulf League kings.

"They're a great team. They're playing good basketball right now. They're playing well. I think we're the better team. We just gotta come in there and compete," said Cady Lalanne.

Al Riyadi versus Shahrdary Gorgan

Thursday, April 25
Stade Nouhad Nawfal, Zouk Mikael, Lebanon
20:30 local time (GMT+3)

Al Riyadi will try to go back-to-back in West Asia against the same club they swept last year in Shahrdary Gorgan as two of the FIBA WASL favorites cross paths anew.

The consensus, of course, is that the Yellow Castle are favored being the defending champions, but they will be facing a much different team compared to the one they beat last year.

Only a few pieces were retained from the Gorgan crew that served as one of the league's pioneering members. From being led by Mo Jamshidi and Behnam Yakhchali, the troika of Arsalan Kazemi, Sina Vahedi, and Will Cherry are now on the forefront of the squad.

Vahedi himself had previously said that he would want his team to face Al Riyadi again after booking the first West Asia Final ticket given what happened last season, and his wish got granted as the latter beat Sagesse in their Semis bracket to forge the rematch.

 "I hope that this season, we're gonna compete with Al Riyadi," said the 23-year-old.

Needless to say, Gorgan are confident and they have every right to feel as much. They swept all of their six games in the Group Phase and then finished off Al Shorta, 2-0, in their best-of-3 Semis in a series that pushed the team to show character especially in Game 2.

Al Riyadi were actually unbeaten in the Group Phase as well (4-0) and appeared to sweep their way to the Final, but got dragged to a deciding Game 3 by their long-time domestic rivals. Still they got the job done, winning the do-or-die encounter via big margin.

Spelling the difference in that game was Thon Maker, and it would be intriguing to see how the former Australia Boomer would impact the upcoming title series with Gorgan.

Game 1 of the series is on Thursday night at the Stade Nouhad Nawfal in Zouk Mikael, which is expected to once again be filled with Al Riyadi fans. Tip-off is at 20:30 local time.