Basketball: Tigers expose decline in opposition

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The Independent Online
AFTER three wins in four days, Thames Valley Tigers' reward for beating CSKA Moscow 84-72 in the World Invitation Club Basketball final at Crystal Palace on Sunday night was to be given three days off from training.

'I hope it's the right move,' said Mick Bett, who is still feeling his way in his debut season as coach. 'But they've earned it. I wanted this tournament to get us back into gear after Christmas, so winning was a bonus'.

The WICB is Thames Valley's first title since 1989, the year in which they won the National Cup and NatWest trophy, and only Paul James and Michael Hayles are still with the squad.

Bett, also a former player with the team, said: 'The rest of the team have never won anything, either here or with former clubs. It's great for them, but now we must move on'.

This is the fifth successive year the title has stayed in Britain, but the string of success indicates a steady decline in the quality of Continental and foreign opposition - from past finalists such as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Philips Milan, Red Star Belgrade, Athletes In Action and Bayer Leverkusen - rather than a growing strength among the domestic clubs.

CSKA can no longer draw on the Red Army's strings to pull in the best players from all over the Soviet Union and they are restricted to players from the Russian Republic.

The distraction of seeing their captain, Maxim Astanin, collapse at half-time with severe bruising heralded a six-minute spell on the restart which saw the impressive Nigel Lloyd and Lester James mastermind a 61-47 lead after CSKA had led 42-41.

Betts said: 'It was obvious they weren't as fit as us and I felt we could wear them down. Most of their points come off the fast break and they aren't a great shooting team when you slow them down in the half court'.

On the domestic front, Worthing Bears cut Tigers' First Division lead to two points with an 87-76 win over Manchester Giants. In the weekend's closest game, Oldham Celtics beat Sunderland Saints 92- 91 after Alan Hopper's three- pointer 12 seconds from time had cut Oldham's lead to a single point.