*Report by Vishnu Ravi Shankar & images by Dulon Kharsati; with inputs from Gopalakrishnan R.
Pune, 22nd February 2016: Day 5 of United Basketball Alliance (UBA) Pro Basketball League Season 2 action began today, with defending champions Chennai Slam taking on the Punjab Steelers. Slam triumphed 80-57 to go a perfect 3-0, while Punjab was condemned to their third straight loss. Later in the evening, Bengaluru Beast beat home team Pune Peshwas in their second head to head from the south division.
The evening was made extra special by the presence of former India cricketer Vinod Kambli, singer/actor Ali Quli Mirza and Pune based entrepreneur and columnist Mr Tehseen Poonawalla.
“This UBA Pro Basketball League is a good start. It is in second season now and we need to give it time to grow. It is like planting a seed. Basketball fever has to go all over the country. It has to reach each and every sportsperson, especially the young generation which loves basketball,” said Mr Kambli.
Bengaluru Beast bt Pune Peshwas
The second game of Day 5 of the UBA Pro Basketball League Season 2 was between home team Pune Peshwas and the Bengaluru Beast. Last year’s runners-up Peshwas dropped their first encounter against the Beast and were looking for revenge in today’s head-to-head between the teams.
Beast did not have the services of their first-choice point guard Raghuram and started with their backup Akinjeet instead. Playing in front of a raucous Pune home crowd, the Bengaluru team got off a good start with their centre Somveer powering his way past the undersized Peshwas frontcourt. Peshwas centre Rvai Kumar was ineffective today, especially on the defensive end. The Beast ended the first quarter up by 5 points 22-17. But the Peshwas clawed back into the game in the second quarter led by their dynamic guard Ajinkya Mane. He found his touch from the outside and used his quickness and athleticism to penetrate and finish as well. Backup centre Gaurav Ohlan used his length effectively in the post to contribute to his team’s offense.
The first half ended with the Peshwas holding a slim 1-point lead 41-40. In the third quarter, the Beast players stepped up. Forward Manjeet started knocking down his mid-range jumpers and his teammate Kaife Zia drained a 3 pointer late in the third to put some gap between the two teams. Beast guard Yashas Ramesh (17 points) was effective throughout the game using his speed in transition for easy buckets. It was anyone’s game in the fourth as the lead remained in single digits throughout. Bengaluru went with a small lineup consisting of four Jain players (Kaife, Yashas, Hrishikesh, Visu) along with Manjeet. Hrishikesh Naidu was big down the stretch for the Beast, converting some cruicial buckets in the paint, including a bucket with a minute left in the game to extend Beast lead to 6 points. Peshwas were unable to find the bottom of the basket in the final minutes and the Beast closed out the game 82-74. Yashas Ramesh was awarded player of the match.
“Our objective was to go with a small lineup and use our speed to beat Pune. Our youngsters played terrific defense as well, especially on Pune’s international player Narender Grewal” said Beast assistant coach Puneet Suresh after the game. The Beast has now won 2 out of their 3 games and are in second place in their group.
Bengaluru Beast (Yashas Ramesh 17, Kaife Zia 17, Somveer 16) bt Pune Peshwas (Ajinkya Mane 18, Siddhant Shinde 16, Narender Grewal 11) 82-74 (22-17, 18-24, 18-12, 24-21)
Chennai Slam bt Punjab Steelers
Defending champions Chennai Slam have remained perfect this season, winning both their games so far. Their opponent today, the Punjab Steelers, have had a sub-par run this season, by their standards. Last year’s semifinalist, Punjab, is yet to win a single game and was looking to change their fortunes today in the first cross-division game of Season 2 against Chennai.
Chennai started the game with a bigger lineup today. Arjun GK, who had a good all-round game off the bench in Chennai’s last match, was moved into the starting lineup along with forward Ashutosh and centre Gopal in the frontcourt. The Steelers chose to start the game with forward Kaushal, who was useful for Punjab in the early going, scoring the first 8 points for his team cutting to the basket. For the Slam, the move to make Arjun a starter paid off. He showed his touch from outside today, knocking down a three in the first quarter. On the defensive end, he used his long arms to make life difficult for the Punjab offense. Punjab’s point guard Akilan finished on a couple of buckets in transition and at the end of the first quarter, the Steelers were up by 1 point 15-14.
But the script changed for Punjab once the second quarter commenced. Chennai brought on forward Ram Kumar and he had an immediate impact on the game. Ram was on fire from 3-point range draining shot after shot. The Steelers were unable to contain Ram Kumar, who made them pay for leaving him open and even got to the basket with his crafty drives. Employing a Spurs-like style of play, Chennai used ball movement to take the best shot available. Point guard Agu skillfully controlled his team’s offensive tempo using the clock and finding the open man on his way to 11 assists in the game. Five Chennai players ended up scoring in double digits, and the game was blown wide open in the first half itself.
The Steelers’ young international forward Gurvinder Gill was shut down by the Slam defense today. He managed to score only 3 points in the contest, finding it difficult to maneuver around Chennai’s big frontline. Only Ravi Bhardwaj (10 points) and guard Manoj (11 points) managed to score in double digits for the Steelers. Point guard Agu had another great defensive game today, applying pressure on the Steelers’ guards as they brought the ball up the court. Agu ended up with a triple-double in the game with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Ram Kumar won the man of the match award for his 24 points and Chennai sealed their third straight victory. The Steelers will be searching for answers and will have a lot of work to do to get their way back into contention this season.
Chennai Slam (Ram Kumar 24, Arjun GK 16, Chukwunanu Agu 11) bt Punjab Steelers (Manoj R. 11, Ravi Bhardwaj 10, Amrit Pal Singh 10) 80-57 (14-15, 26-17, 23-13, 17-12)
About the UBA Pro Basketball League
The UBA Pro Basketball League is structured on a league cum knockout basis. Season 2 is being held in two phases: 18 to 28 Feb in Pune followed by 21st March to 3rd April in Hyderabad. There are eight teams in total divided into two divisions: Pune Peshwas, Delhi Capitals, Haryana Gold, Punjab Steelers (North division) and Chennai Slam, Mumbai Challengers, Bengaluru Beast and Hyderabad Sky (South division). Chennai Slam won the inaugural season last year with Pune Peshwas finishing second.
About United Basketball Alliance India Pvt. Ltd.
The United Basketball Alliance (UBA India) is a next-generation sports branding company. Its main objective is to make sport brands mean something to their sport viewers. To do that, UBA helps brands connect with viewers by providing insight-driven ideas across all media platforms. With respect to its Pro Basketball League, UBA India has already secured primetime television broadcasting arrangements with the Ten Sports Network, and is securing corporate sponsorships for the league, and creating merchandising opportunities.