Basketball: Mims attempts to lift the Leopards

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The Independent Online
HILLSBOROUGH, the Sheffield Wednesday ground at the centre of media attention this week on the 10th anniversary of the football disaster, is the base for the Greater London Leopards ahead of tonight's Budweiser Championship play-off quarter-final at Ponds Forge.

The Leopards, beaten 100-82 by the Sheffield Sharks on Wednesday night, hope that their choice of practice venue will give them a decisive edge in their final encounter.

Hillsborough's facilities include a full-sized basketball court with a sprung wooden floor and Leopards' coach, Billy Mims, said: "We've trained at Sheffield Wednesday twice before when we played the Sharks. The first time was when we won the National Cup in 1997 and then in our final league game last season when we won the title."

Sheffield's attempt to reach Wembley, and add the play-off to the League and National Cup crowns, was knocked off course by Sunday's defeat at Leopards in the first leg of their best-of-three series.

The Sharks coach, Chris Finch, said: "The Leopards are aggressive and athletic. If you don't match them you will be blitzed like we were in the first game. We had to show more teeth."

In Wednesday's match the Leopards' playmakers panicked in front of Sheffield's zone defence, allowing the Sharks to score 14 points off turnovers in the first half alone. Mims said: "They were unforced errors. Our guards either drove up blind alleyways or tried to pass the ball through crowds of players."

Todd Cauthorne, nursing an ankle injury which had prevented him from training, kept his 6ft 8inch frame largely out of the battle under the baskets and hit seven long range three-pointers in his game-high 30 points. Finch said: "Todd did what his injury allowed him to do. Their defence collapsed on our guys under the basket and Todd stayed in the clear on the outside."

Mims said: "Todd hit some nice shots but I don't think we contested any of them. We might as well have rolled a rack of balls out to him and said: `Have a three point shoot-out'."

Thames Valley Tigers, last season's beaten play-off finalists, were the first to book their Wembley return with Wednesday's 114-93 win over Derby Storm. John McCord's 39 points led Tigers to a 2-0 series win.