*Report by Vishnu Ravi Shankar. Images by Dulon Kharsati. Edits & upload by Gopalakrishnan R

Bambolim, 13th March 2016: The semifinal stage arrived today on the penultimate day of the 30th Federation Cup 2016 here in Bambolim, Goa. As expected, the favourites from the women’s and men’s divisions advanced to the knockout stages of the tournament.

IOB bt Vijaya Bank

Getting ejected! Naveen Raj of Vijaya Bank (in red) and Vineeth Revi of IOB, Chennai before their ejection from the game.

Getting ejected! Naveen Raj of Vijaya Bank (in red) and Vineeth Revi of IOB, Chennai before their ejection from the game.

The last semifinal of the day was a thriller of a contest between southern powerhouse clubs, Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai (IOB) and Vijaya Bank, Bengaluru. IOB were slow to get out of the gates struggling to knock down shots in the early going. Vijaya Bank came out ready to play, led by their international point guard Rajesh Uppar. Uppar’s unexpected 3-point shooting took IOB by surprise as Vijaya Bank established an early lead in the contest. Shooting guard Anil Kumar (20 points) also had a good beginning, knocking down outside shots and finishing in transition. But IOB managed to keep themselves close to Vijaya Bank with the help of Tamil Nadu guard Siva Balan, who had success driving to the basket. International guard Pratham Singh was the other major scorer for IOB, knocking down three triples in the game.

Towards the end of the second half, with Vijaya Bank holding on to a slim lead, IOB centre Vineeth Mathew got into a tussle with Vijaya Bank forward Navin, resulting in both players getting ejected. This seemed to have fired up the IOB players, who came out resilient in the second half. Siva Balan’s decisive drives to the basket helped cut down Vijaya Bank’s lead. IOB forward Aravind Annadurai (10 points and 10 rebounds) had a huge putback dunk in the fourth quarter that gave his team some momentum going into the final minutes. But Rajesh Uppar (25 points) kept firing away, knocking down six 3-pointers in the contest. The match came down to the final minutes with the scores tied at 71 apiece and under a minute left to play. After a couple of botched possessions from both teams, IOB’s veteran Hareesh Koroth hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 2.8 second left on the clock to give his team a 3-point lead. Uppar could not connect on his team’s final attempt and IOB ended up securing a 74-71 victory.

Kerala bt Telangana

International forward Jeena PS of Kerala battles Jincy Joseph of SCR Telangana.

International forward Jeena PS of Kerala battles Jincy Joseph of SCR Telangana.

Kerala and Telangana women, both of whom made it to the final four of the senior nationals earlier in the year, took on each other in the first semifinal of the day. Kerala have been undefeated in the tournament so far topping their group, while Telangana finished in second place in their group dropping their opening game to South-eastern Central Railways.

Kerala stuck to their game plan today against Telangana, running their offense through centre Stephy Nixon and forward Jeena PS. Both the Kerala international players delivered for Kerala, using their size and skill in the post to outmatch the Telangana frontcourt. The dynamic duo put their entire offensive arsenal on display with an array of post moves, finishing around the rim with both hands and knocking down close jumpers. Telangana did manage to stay within striking distance of Kerala in the first half, led by R. Ramya (14 points) and their most consistent player P. Divya (14 points). But Kerala pulled away in the second half mainly owing to the stellar play of Jeena and Stephy, who kept firing away, shooting well above 50% from the field. Anjana PG provided support with a 15-point contribution for Kerala and Rojamol came off the bench to further bolster Kerala’s rebounding advantage with 12 rebounds. Kerala outrebounded Telangana by a huge 65 to 38 margin, giving away very few second chance opportunities to Telangana. On the defensive end, Kerala made life difficult for Telangana keeping their shooting down to a woeful 28% from the field. Kerala sailed through the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead, ending up with a 68-54 victory and sealing a berth in the final.

ONGC bt Army Red

Guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi of ONGC Uttarakhand in action against Army Red.

Guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi of ONGC Uttarakhand in action against Army Red.

In the first men’s semifinal, defending champions ONGC, Dehradun took on a dangerous Army Red side, featuring prominent players from the Services team that won the Senior Nationals this year. The game turned out to be closer than expected, with Army Red eager to prove their mettle and pull off an upset. Forward Ramesh Kumar went to work in the post finding the bottom of the net with his baby hooks and turnaround jumpers. Athletic guard Mayur Bhat was also aggressive in the first half penetrating the ONGC defence to finish at the basket or create opportunities for his teammates. Both Bhat and forward Jairam Jat, who helped to stretch the floor for Army, were knocking down timely triples to stay neck-and-neck with ONGC. As usual, Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi (18 points) was ONGC’s go-to scorer pushing the tempo and finishing in transition, while fellow international Yadwinder hustled his way to 8 points. Veteran guard Riyazuddin (17 points and 10 rebounds) provided the offensive spark for ONGC, with his assertive drives to the basket and getting to the freethrow line. But ONGC was cold from 3-point range today. Shooting guard Trideep Rai made just one out of his eight attempts, while Vishesh was unable to connect on all four of his 3-point shots. ONGC’s shooting troubles kept Army in the contest as the game went down to the final minutes. But too many turnovers (22 in the entire game) proved disastrous for Army leading to transition buckets for ONGC in the dying minutes. Former India player Mohit Bhandari came off the bench for ONGC to knock down a crucial late triple that sealed the deal for his team and ending Army’s campaign. ONGC will now face the winner of the other semifinal between IOB, Chennai and Vijaya Bank, Bengaluru.

Chhattisgarh bt SECR

Poonam Chaturvedi of Chhattisgarh had a dominant second half against SECR Bilaspur.

Poonam Chaturvedi of Chhattisgarh had a dominant second half against SECR Bilaspur.

The second women’s semifinal was a battle between two Chhattisgarh-based teams – Chhattisgarh state and South-eastern Central Railways, Bilaspur (SECR). SECR entered the game unbeaten and on a 3-game win streak this tournament. Chhattisgarh lost one league game against Kerala, who have already qualified for the final. Chhattisgarh’s main weapon, Poonam Chaturvedi started out slow for her standards. SECR put multiple bodies on Poonam making it difficult for her to catch the ball or score in the paint. For SECR, Seema Singh (27 points) carried the bulk of the scoring load in the first half operating in the post and stepping outside as well to knock down the occasional 3-pointer. With Poonam’s slow start, Saranjeet Kaur stepped up for Chhattisgarh finding her touch from deep and breaking out for transition buckets. Down by two points entering the second half, Poonam came alive to score all 21 of her team’s third quarter buckets. Chhattisgarh’s guards Sangeeta Das (9 assists) and Riya Varma (8 assists) improved on their lobs to Poonam, helping her catch right in the shot pocket. Poonam added another 16 points in the fourth to help her team outscore SECR 31 to 16 in the last period turning the game into a blowout. On the back on Poonam’s mammoth 46-point effort, Chhattisgarh clinched a spot in the final where they will face the Kerala women.

Women’s Semifinals:

Kerala (Stephy Nixon 24pts 13rbs, Jeena PS 19pts 12rbs, Anjana PG 15pts) bt Telangana (Palanivel Divya 14pts 12rbs, R. Ramya 14pts, M. Gayathri 12pts) 68-54 (20-11, 13-15, 16-13, 19-15)

Chhattisgarh (Poonam Chaturvedi 46pts 10rbs, Saranjeet Kaur 16pts, Riya Varma 11pts 8asts) bt South-eastern Central Railways, Bilaspur (Seema Singh 27pts, Sangeeta Kaur 14pts, Bharti Netam 9pts) 83-68 (16-19, 15-14, 21-19, 31-16)

Men’s Semifinals:

ONGC, Dehradun (Vishesh Bhrighuvanshi 18pts, Riyazuddin 17pts, Yadwinder Singh 8pts) bt Army Red (Mayur Bhat 20pts, Ramesh Kumar 12pts 14rbs, Jairam Jat 10pts 10rbs) 55-51 (21-18, 9-10, 16-10, 9-13)

Indian Overseas Bank, Chennai (Sivabalan S 20pts, Pratham Singh 16pts, Aravind Annadurai 10pts 10rbs) bt Vijaya Bank, Bengaluru (Rajesh Uppar 25pts, Anil Kumar BK 20pts, Arvind Arumugam 9pts) 74-71 (18-17, 17-20, 18-18, 21-16)

About the Federation Cup

The Shyama Prasad Mukherjee indoor stadium in the Goa University Campus is the venue for the 30th Federation Cup National Basketball Championship for Men and Women 2016. Matches will be played on a league cum knockout basis. There are nine men’s teams and eight women’s teams in the fray. Headlining the men’s teams will be defending champions ONGC, Uttarakhand and last year’s runners up Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), Chennai. Among women teams, Kerala, Chhattisgarh and Delhi will start off as hot contenders.

League matches will be played from 9th to 12th March, followed by the semifinals and finals on 13th and 14th respectively. In both the men’s and women’s sections, teams have been divided into two preliminary groups.The Federation Cup is held annually and is the most coveted tournament for basketball clubs/state teams throughout India.

Generally speaking, in the men’s section, the top 8 state teams from the previous year’s Senior National Championship send the Champion District/Unit/Club of the State Championship/Inter-district/Inter-Unit. In the women’s section, the top 8 state teams from the previous year’s Senior National Championship are eligible to participate, along with the Champion team of the Indian Railways Unit.

Another significance of the Federation Cup is that it serves as the qualifying tournament for the FIBA Asia Champions Cup for Men, which pits the top clubs in the continent against each other. The winning men’s team from the Federation Cup qualifies to the FIBA Asia Champions Cup.

Last year, the 29th Federation Cup National Basketball Championship for Men and Women was organized by Basketball Federation of India in association with Maharashtra State Basketball Association and Poona District Basketball Association, and was held at Shiv Chattrapathi Krida Sankul, Mhalunge, Balewadi, Pune, Maharashtra from 29th March to 2nd April 2015. ONGC, Uttarakhand and Southern Railway were crowned champions in the men’s and women’s divisions respectively.

Team Ekalavyas
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