Underdogs collared

Basketball
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The Independent Online
The underdogs managed little more than a whimper on Saturday night, clearing the way for the Budweiser League's top four to claim the semi- final places in the play-offs at Wembley Arena on the first weekend in May.

Worthing Bears and Manchester Giants came closest to applying pressure to the seeded teams but along with Thames Valley Tigers and Derby Storm, wasted their only game with home advantage in the best of three quarter- finals.

The Giants, fifth in the league, were one second away from victory over fourth-placed London Leopards when the American Robert Youngblood scored two free throws to force overtime at 67-67. Youngblood and the England international Karl Brown dominated the extra period as Leopards won 76- 72.

Worthing, play-off champions for the past three seasons, came within one point of the league runners-up Sheffield Sharks, when Steve Nelson scored two free throws with 10 seconds remaining. Sheffield's American Todd Cauthorn responded with two more for the Sharks to win 78-75.

Thames Valley watched the champions, London Towers, score the game's first 19 points in six minutes at Bracknall, where the play-off favourites won 118-87. Nigel Lloyd, with 31 points, led Birmingham Bullets to a 92- 78 win at Derby.

If the midweek return legs followed the script, the league's leading quartet should enjoy a free weekend instead of nervy sudden-death deciders.

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