Basketball: Kings rule their own court: Guildford establish narrow advantage

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Guildford Kings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .86

Hapoel Galil Elyon. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .78

GUILDFORD KINGS' European Clubs Championship hopes go into limbo for a week as they wait to discover whether their eight-point victory in last night's second round, first leg game at the Spectrum Arena is enough to see them through next Thursday's second leg on the court of the Israeli champions, writes Duncan Hooper.

A place in the competition's final pool, and perhaps pounds 100,000 in television revenue, rests on next week's result and Guildford know they should be taking a bigger lead with them.

The Kings, six points down at the half, dragged their way back into the game as Tracy Pearson, Martin Henlan and Carl Miller repeatedly bulldozed a path to Galil's basket. With one minute to play they led 86-74 and had possession, but twice failed to score and allowed Galil's American centre Mike Ainsley to cut the deficit with a basket and two free throws.

Guildford started cold and it was not until Karl Brown and Lorenzo Duncan made way for Alton Byrd and Julio Politi that some of the anxiety fell away from their offense. Byrd's assist to Pearson, followed by a steal and Politi's three-pointer cut Galil's lead to 12-11.

But the Israelis were still controlling the game through the steady hands of Brad Leaf, who needed little more than the ability to convert fast breaks to help himself to 17 first-half points.

Guildford once threatened to break the Israeli grip when steals from Byrd and Henlan and a three-pointer from Duncan opened a 27-22 lead.

Inside a minute that advantage disappeared as Leaf, a naturalised American, canned two three-pointers and with Ainsley and Mike Gibson stifling Henlan and Pearson the Israelis led 49-46 at the break.

Guildford could not find any shooting range and from the restart took the ball inside where Pearson, Miller and Duncan earned a stream of free throws to regain the lead at 50-51.

Pearson and, particularly, Henlan began to dominate the rebounds and Galil grew anxious. Pearson's bonus play and then another basket gave the Kings their biggest lead at 73-63 as they and their fans began to dream of taking a

20-point lead to Israel.

LEADING SCORERS: Guildford: Pearson 27, Miller 13, Duncan 12, Byrd 11, Henlan 10. Galil: Leaf 27, Ainsley 19, Hazan 14.

(Photograph omitted)