Basketball: Sharks looking sharp for final

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SHEFFIELD SHARKS took the easy road to next month's National Cup final on their home court at Sheffield Arena on Saturday, while the Greater London Leopards earned their place the hard way by coming back from 18 points down to defeat the Newcastle Eagles 98-95 in overtime.

Sheffield should have expected a harder battle against the Cup holders. But their 78-66 victory was a re-enactment of the 19-point league win two weeks ago as Travis Conlan and Terell Myers dominated the back court with as much ease as Wil Johnson and Todd Cauthorn obliterated the Tigers under the basket.

Johnson, who scored Sheffield's last five points with a dunk and a three- pointer, took five offensive rebounds in the opening four minutes as the Sharks luxuriated in the knowledge that they could afford to miss, knowing they would get the ball back.

An impassioned time-out plea by the Tigers coach, Paul James, who said: "You've had your fun for five minutes, now go out and start playing," fell on deaf ears.

Even allowing for the ankle injury which so severely restricted Jason Siemon, Tigers showed little stomach for the fight and Casey Arena was frequently left looking as agile as a statue while Conlan and Myers ran him ragged.

Sheffield now meet the Greater London Leopards in a repeat of the 1997 final, which the Leopards won 87-79 in the Sharks' own waters. It is also a dream final for the English Basketball Association, the organisers, because the Sharks, losers of only two games this season, will be the hosts at Sheffield Arena.

Eagles, still 15 points up with nine minutes to play, were grateful to Tim Moore and Robert Youngblood, who inspired Eric Burks' best half of basketball this season.

Leopards drew level for the first time at 80-80 with 62 seconds to play, before Ralph Blalock's jump shot gave Newcastle a two-point lead with nine seconds left.

Leopards needed an outrageous refereeing decision, though, to get their chance in overtime when Stedroy Baker was given two free throws after he was plainly fouled passing the ball and not shooting.

"You have to make your breaks," Billy Mims, the Leopards coach, said, and after recovering an 18-point deficit they certainly did that. "The last two free-throws we got, we made our breaks. We attacked the basket; they didn't get there and fouled us. Stedroy Baker had to make both and he did. What a great job stepping up to the line. In overtime we had to make our free throws and we did."

LEADING SCORERS Greater London Leopards: Moore 22; Youngblood 16; Burks 15. Newcastle Eagles: Fite 28; Blalock 19; Jackson 14. Sheffield Sharks: Johnson 30; Myers 21; Conlan 13. Thames Valley Tigers: Balser 18; McCord 18; Arena 11.