BASKETBALL: A perfect weekend for Leopards saw them reach the National Trophy final and move up the EBL Division One table.
A 92-84 victory at Hemel Storm on Saturday evening saw the Big Cats reach the final of the one competition they failed to win last season, and they will face Tees Valley Mohawks in the final in Leicester on Saturday, February 23.
The following day saw second placed Team Northumbria comfortably beaten 73-56 in front of a packed Brentwood Centre crowd to complete Leopards’ first back-to-back weekend success of the season..
At Hemel, Simon Cummings poured in a career 38 points, adding five rebounds and four assists as Leopards led for almost the whole game despite the hosts’ never-say-die attitude.
Greg Hernandez finished with 25 points and seven rebounds, and Carl Josey added 11 and nine boards for Leopards as they never looked back after a 28-17 first period.
The visitors led by as many as 13 in the second period before Hemel trimmed the lead to 44-37 at half-time.
With Cummings scoring well from three-point land, Robert Youngblood’s team led 69-55 at the final break and although the hosts pulled within three points with four minutes remaining, nine straight Cummings points down the stretch saw Leopards home.
Hernandez led the way on Sunday with 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists as Leopards never trailed after the opening stages.
Adu added 18 points, while Cummings had 14 points, six assists and five boards, and Rowell Graham added nine points and ten rebounds.
A dunk from Graham with three minutes gone gave Leopards a lead they would never lose, and they led 22-11 at the first break before being pegged back to 35-27 going into the locker room at half-time.
A 7-0 run sparked by Cummings saw Leopards close out the third period with a 53-38 lead and the visitors never got closer than eight points as the Big Cats collected their eighth league win of the campaign.
It will be a blast from the past when Leopards face Bristol Academy Flyers at Southend Tennis & Leisure Centre on Sunday.
The original Big Cats played two BBL games at the Essex venue in the 1998/9 season, with capacity crowds seeing them win on both occasions.
The venue went on to be used by Essex Pirates between 2009 and 2011, and Leopards coach Robert Youngblood is hoping that a big crowd will turn out to see his team in action against old rivals Flyers “It’s a great place to play.
They got 1,400 at one game against Plymouth in their last year, and they averaged 700 in their final ten games. It would be great to see some of those fans turn out to support us.”
The game is a repeat of the 2012 National Cup final which saw Leopards come from behind to seal a stunning 64-63 victory.
Leopards also won the Division One title last season, edging the Flyers into second in a reversal of the 2011 finishing places, and the play-off title. The teams have yet to meet this season, with Bristol one place ahead of the Leopards in fifth place.
The Big Cats are also in action on Saturday when they travel to seventh placed Leicester Warriors to face a team that they beat 62-59 at home in the league but lost 88-83 at in the Trophy group stage.