Basketball: Hot Bett hedges his bets

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THAMES Valley Tigers will discover tonight whether they have the mettle to take their challenge for the Carlsberg League title beyond the grasp of the defending champions, Guildford Kings, when they meet at the Guildford Sports Centre.

Tigers lead the First Division after one defeat from 12 games, against London Towers, while Guildford languish in fourth place after four defeats, one more than they suffered in the whole of last season.

Mick Bett still seems slightly surprised to have taken the Tigers to the top of the division in his debut season as a coach. He nevertheless recognises that his players have failed one of the only two severe tests they have faced so far.

After winning at Worthing Bears, who have also sustained just a solitary defeat, Tigers lost at third-placed London. 'We didn't do the right things defensively and I blame myself for some of that,' Bett admitted.

Tigers' bulky American Lester James faces his closest examination tonight against Guildford's England internationals Martin Henlan and Trevor Gordon, whose own bulk is stretched out to 6ft 10in and 6ft 9in, respectively.

Bett is also keenly aware that the core of his team must shake off the inferiority complex stemming from having finished runners-up to the Kings in the League, Cup and play-offs last season.

'Tonight,' he said, 'we'll find out if we're mentally ready to do that. It could be a make or break weekend for us.'

The Guildford coach, Kevin Cadle, still believes his team can retain the title. 'We've had our bad spell. The others are still waiting for theirs but they know they're going to hit one sooner or later.'