RAPLA – Ventspils had nothing to worry about going into the game against Tyco Rapla, having won the first leg by an impressive 30 points, but made sure to make a statement in the second game as well. The Latvians started slow, but ultimately mounted a 70-55 (11-17; 22-10; 20-14; 17-14) victory.
Tyco Rapla was surprisingly active in the initial minutes and that helped them amount to a 8 point lead early in the game and keep hope alive for a miracle comeback.
However, all that was quickly cut down with 7 unanswered points for Ventspils. The two sides went back and forth for most of the second period, but Artis Ate hit a three-pointer with the clock winding down and pushed the visitors’ lead to six before the break.
The margin soon reached double-digits and Ventspils made sure to keep their distance. Before the final quarter, they were up by 12 and felt absolutely safe knowing they had a 42-point combined advantage.
Tyco Rapla couldn’t get any closer and that would be the end of their Baltic Basketball League season.
Harvey Grant led the way for the Latvians with 13 points and 6 rebounds, while Martins Meiers added 11. Nikolaos Gkikas ended the game with 9 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
Only one player slipped inside the double-digit scoring mark for Tyco Rapla, as Domagoj Bubalo was close to a double-double with 15 points and 9 rebounds. Rait Keerles added 8 points, while Janar Soo chipped in with 7.
Andrius Mazutis has been one of the cornerstones to the success Liepaja/Triobet has had over the past year, as the 33-year-old playmaker leads the Baltic Basketball League (BBL) the league in assists.
BBL.net spoke with point guard from Mazeikiai, who is averaging 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, about the season so far, his first basketball steps and the team’s chances in the Playoff duel against Latvian rivals Jekabpils.
Andrius, congratulations with the achievement! Clearly, becoming the best assistant is a tough task to accomplish. Are these kinds of awards something you hold valuable or do you take it more like a message that you’re on the right track?
Thank you for the appreciation. At this point in my career, I don‘t really pay that much attention to awards like these. This year I‘ve really had great teammates, who can all knock down their shots. All I have to do is get them the ball at the right time in the right place and they know what to do. Of course, our coach’s schemes are very handy for me, since I’m usually the guy leading the ball to the hotspots. All I can say is that I appreciate this award more as a team, not a personal, achievement.
Liepaja/Triobet has performed marvelously this season, both in the Baltic and Latvian Basketball Leagues. What has been the key to this success?
Work, work and more work. We push ourselves in practice every single day and the results are apparent. This was only the first half of the season and everything will be sorted out during springtime. Only then we’ll see which team chose the right path.
Although this season seems to be unfolding well, throughout the club’s 22 years of history, Liepaja has yet to win a title in the LBL or BBL. With the current roster, which, as we’ve seen, is capable of some great things, what are the adjustments or improvements in the game that have to be made to finally change history?
Every player has to improve both individually and team-wise day in and day out. If we honestly do our homework, results will surely surface. Even if they don’t, at least it won’t be hard to look each other in the eye, knowing that we’ve done everything that was in our hands.
Let’s take a minute to look at your next opponents, Jekabpils. You’ve already played these guys twice in the LBL, splitting a victory each. And despite that, Jekabpils is still far below in the league standings. What do you know about this team and what can we expect from this matchup?
Despite the current standings, the battles between these two clubs are always intense. Jekabpils were haunted by injuries in the first part of the season, maybe that’s why their results are a bit worse than last year. This might be something that motivates them though, so we can‘t expect any easy games.
Rinalds Sirsnins is a clear leader on that team and has a deadly, and an extremely high volume (3.8/9.4 per game, 40%) three-point shot. Will limiting his long-range scoring opportunities be one of your personal goals in these two games?
We play in the same position so naturally we’ll have the most micro-duels. We’re getting ready to stop the whole team, not just individuals. The tactical decisions will be in the hands of the coach, but of course, we’ll pay a bit more attention to their leaders. One of them will be Rinalds.
Let’s talk a bit more about you personally. When you’re growing up in a basketball-crazed country like Lithuania, it’s probably hard not to get pulled into the whirlpool. How, when and why did you take on basketball? Who was, or maybe still is, your basketball idol?
I started playing at the age of five. During those times, Zalgiris and CSKA match-ups drew country-wide attention. That, perhaps, was the initial push to take up basketball. Talking about Lithuanians, I loved seeing Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis play, while Michael Jordan was my favorite worldwide.
I believe it’s safe to call you a journeyman. Throughout your career you’ve played for a lot of different teams in a lot of different countries, ranging from Lithuania to Azerbaijan, Turkey and Belarus to name a few. What is the one season that was most memorable? And what is the one basketball related memory, you cherish most?
I couldn’t point out a specific season, since they all left a mark in my life. The losses made me stronger, the victories added self-confidence. I met a lot of different coaches and players who became important pieces of my career. If I had to remember one single moment, episode of my playing days, it would be the final playoff game between Nafta Mazeikiai and Siauliai. We were leading by three points with five seconds on the clock and we couldn’t manage to foul them. They drained a three-pointer and took the overtime victory.
You are no spring chicken anymore, having already played professionally for a decade and a half. What does the future hold for you and are there some unfinished business, unaccomplished goals you would like to take care of before it’s all said and done?
I live by the day right now. All I want to do is give it my all to get Liepaja all the possible victories.
It’s been a season full of ups and downs for Tarvas, but it has brought out the best of one of the Estonian club’s players. Brandis Raley-Ross was recently named the Baltic Basketball League’s top scorer of the regular season and claimed the award before the home game against Pieno Zvaigzdes.
The 27-year-old guard averaged league-best 20.7 points and his biggest scoring outburst was against Dynamo Moscow, when he racked up 35 points. Brandis took some time off his schedule to talk to BBL.net about his season.
Congratulations on becoming the top scorer in the Baltic Basketball League, Brandis, and thank you for sparing some time for us! What does this kind of achievement mean to you?
Firstly, I want to thank you for the interview. This achievement means a lot, it shows the extra work that I have put in this summer and during this season to make my game complete. I also credit my coach and everyone involved in bringing me to Tarvas for giving me this opportunity.
Tarvas has had a so-so season, winning half of their eight ‘official’ games, as they finished third in Group C. How would you rate the first part of the season team-wise?
Well, if Dynamo hadn’t dropped out, we would be 6-4. The first part of the season has been interesting to say the least. Tarvas this year has dealt with many things including players leaving, injuries etc. I don't think I have played with the same group of players for over 6 weeks yet. I believe we have done well considering the adversity the team has been through.
While the club has yet to perform to its’ full potential, you’re racking up an off-the-charts statline. What is the secret behind this outstanding form?
Focus, confidence, determination, dedication and discipline. I am extremely motivated to prove I am the best player every time I step on the court and I have had to sacrifice things off the court for my success on the court. I am a gym rat, I watch film every day, eat healthier and spend 2-3 hours a day preparing my body for upcoming games. Any other secrets I can't tell.... To quote Kobe Bryant, "if I tell you my secrets I have to eliminate you".
Where do you see the most room for improvement both as a team and as an individual?
As a team we have to build chemistry with our new additions and develop an identity as a team. For myself, I have to be ready for everything. Teams are throwing a lot of different defenses at me and always switching up coverages, so I must watch more film and continue to add more to my game defensively and offensively to be 2-3 steps ahead of the opposition. Basketball is a chess match and I pride myself in being ahead and prepared.
You’re facing one of the regular season’s best teams, Pieno Zvaigzdes, in the first round. What are your expectations for this matchup and what will be the key elements of carrying out the upset?
Pieno Zvaigzdes is a great team they have great players and even better coaches. It will be tough to beat them, but anything is possible. I expect our team to compete for 40 minutes and execute our game plan.
When did you start playing basketball and was there anyone who inspired you to continue with this path? Who was your role model growing up and who is your basketball idol right now?
I started playing basketball when I was 5 years old. My mother and father both inspired me, they supported me every step of the way and help to keep my dream alive. I'm from North Carolina so Michael Jordan was always a role model or the standard to which I measured myself. I gravitated to watching Kobe Bryant more while in high school so he is currently my idol.
Rakvere is a small town with a population of merely 15 thousand and you’ve spent the lion’s share of your professional career here. Are you enjoying your time in Estonia and what is it that you miss most about the States?
I love Estonia, this is where I got my 1st chance to be a professional player. I have great friends here that are like family. Obviously, I miss my family, especially my younger siblings who look up to me.
What do you do in Rakvere, when you're not on the basketball court?
I spend a lot of time working on future business plans with my business Immaculate Training! Besides planning tournaments and camps, I also train and spend time with the younger teams in Rakvere. I love to give back and help others. Other than this, I am preparing for the next game.
What are your goals in the near future, this season with Tarvas and what do you think about the next step in your career, your longer-term ambitions?
My goal is to reach my full potential as a player and win multiple championships. Every year I want to move up a level and be more successful than the previous year. Long term, I will eventually play at the highest level of basketball.
JEKABPILS – An outstanding fourth quarter performance allowed Liepaja/Triobet to start their BBL Playoff run on the right foot, as they took a 67-62 (17-17; 13-16; 26-16; 6-18) away victory against Latvian rivals Jekabpils on Wednesday evening.
This was the match-up between the 7th and 10th seeds, with the victors proving why they were higher ranked.
This game was the closest match-up in these play-offs so far, and it’s easy to see that the two sides are very evenly matched. And the first quarter was a great example of that, as the lead kept changing hands, but the quarter ended up a stalemate.
Neither team could get any momentum going in the second period as well, so the two Latvian clubs were split by only three points at halftime.
It seemed that this would be how the game would play out until the final moments, as the eight initial minutes of the second half were also nip-and-tuck. However, after the teams traded sizeable runs, Jekabpils finally managed to jump ahead before the final quarter – 56-49.
It all turned around very quickly in the final frame, as a 14-2 run now put Liepaja in the driving seat. The home side couldn’t get any closer in the final three minutes and were forced to face a small, yet crucial loss.
Dovydas Redikas returned to Jekabpils with a strong performance, tabbing 20 points and 7 rebounds. Devin Taylor was the only other player in double-digit scoring with 10 points to his name.
Edgaras Zelionis was the leading scorer for the visitors, as he knocked down 16. Arnolds Helmanis added 10 points, while Kristaps Miglinieks ended the game with 9.
PANEVEZYS – Despite a one-sided victory, the ending to the Lietkabelis – Kalev/Cramo series couldn’t have been much more entertaining. Although the Estonians entered the game with a 14-point advantage from the first of two games, Lietkabelis managed to overcome the difference and took a 96-75 (20-15; 30-23; 20-18; 26-19) victory.
After winning the first game 78-64, Kalev/Cramo could feel quite safe before the return match. However, Lietkabelis proved very early on that they’re not yet ready to let their arms down. Five minutes in the initial period, it was a 15-7 lead for the Lithuanians.
The home side’s advantage expanded to double-digits right at the start of the second quarter, but Kalev/Cramo rushed back with a 9-0 run, cutting the gap to just six. Lietkabelis finished the quarter strong though, and the margin was back in double-digit territory.
While the gap dwindled down once again and only seven points separated the two opponents with a couple minutes remaining in the third frame, another draught helped Lietkabelis tie the combined score with a 70-56 lead.
The final quarter was simply a disaster for the Estonian club, as they broke down. Lietkabelis improved their lead to mid-twenties and it seemed there was not much left for the visitors to do.
There was still a 26-point spread was on the table with two minutes on the clock, but Kalev/Cramo managed to get some life back in the game with a couple of three-pointers, accompanied by active defense and trimmed the margin to 19, with a chance to dig in even further. Nevertheless, Lietkabelis survived and will now face the winners of the Siauliai – Parnu series.
Evaldas Zabas was the cornerstone of this victory, as he tallied 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Egidijus Dimsa was solid with 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Ivan Nelyubov and Mantas Kazonas chipped in with 16 apiece. Dainius Salenga was clumsy with the ball late in the game and accompanied his 10 points with 3 turnovers in the final minute alone.
Rain Veideman led the losing team with 19 points. Gregor Arbet was solid with 18 points, while Scott Machado lit up with 17 points and 13 assists. Frank Elegar added 13 points and 12 rebounds to the total.
TARTU – After a very long break, BBL basketball returned to Tartu University Sports Hall, as the home side TU/Rock made their season debut with an impressive 100-68 (17-17; 31-15; 27-14; 25-22) victory over Prienai.
The Estonians now have a 32-point advantage before the return match in Prienai.
While the game started off as close as it gets, as the score was tied at 17 after the first quarter, TU/Rock cut loose early in the second quarter. The Estonians drained seven three-pointers in just over five minutes and ended the half up by 16.
The Estonian storm didn’t end there, however. A 10-1 run, sparked by Janar Talts pushed their lead to 25 with just a couple minutes burned in the third period. A couple minutes later, Prienai had another drought, allowing Tartu another 9-0 run. The game had already gotten out of hand come fourth quarter, as the Lithuanians faced a 29-point deficit.
While it was already all said and done, TU/Rock put the final nails in the coffin with four more three-pointers to close out the game. The Tartu side converted on 13 long-range shots in total.
Janar Talts was a pain in the neck for Prienai, as he scored 20 points, had 11 rebounds and 6 assists to lead TU/Rock in all three categories. Valmo Kriisa added 15 points, while Timo Eichfuss and Tanel Kurbas ended the game with 14 each. Joosep Toome and Tanel Sokk finished the contest with respectively 11 and 9 points.
Dominykas Milka was Prienai’s top scorer with 16 points. Gediminas Maceina and Arnas Labuckas added 11 apiece, while Paulius Ivanauskas had 9 points.
TAMPERE – The eleventh seeded Pyrinto delivered quite the blow to one of the top teams in the regular season, Valmiera, as the Finns celebrated a huge 107-73 (27-15; 29-13; 24-24; 27-21) victory at home on Tuesday evening.
Valmiera, who were the higher-seeded team going into this series, now face a 34-point deficit before the return match. The winner of this Eighth-final will play the victor of the Tyco Rapla – Ventspils series.
The Latvian side scored the opening basket and that was the last time they even came close to a lead, as Pyrinto raced off to a 12-0 run to grab an early double-digit advantage. They maintained a high offensive tempo and continued laying a solid foundation.
The second quarter was even more one-sided. Pyrinto knocked down trey after trey and soon raised their lead to a slightly inappropriate 28 points.
The Valmiera side finally managed to put up a decent fight only in the second quarter, as they kept their opponents from running away any further. However, they didn’t manage to trim the margin either, as period ended 24-24.
The situation just got worse in the final quarter, as Pyrinto pushed their margin to 37 points. It was all said and done even before the quarter, but the Finnish side should feel pretty good about their chances with a 34-point advantage before the rematch in Valmiera.
Damon Williams was absolutely unbelievable tonight, as he recorded a triple double of 11 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. Will Harris was also solid with 22 points to his name, while Antero Lehto finished with 17. Bryan Hopkins added 14 points, while Tyrone Kent ended the game with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
SIAULIAI – The first and last seeds of the BBL Playoffs matched up in Siauliai on Tuesday evening and the home fans were surely delighted to see their team crush Parnu 108-71 (24-14; 23-28; 27-20; 34-9) mostly due to an outstanding fourth quarter.
Siauliai, just like TU/Rock and Ventspils, started the BBL season from the Playoffs, while Parnu tabbed the final spot with a 3-7 record in Group A.
Siauliai looked like the superior team right from the initial minutes, as they mounted a 14-5 lead halfway through the first quarter. However, the game evened out in the second frame, as the Estonians managed to close in. They were down only by five at halftime.
Siauliai regained control of the double-digit advantage soon after the break with a 14-0 run and were once again in the driving position. While Parnu managed to close in a bit, the final quarter brought a horrendous defeat to them.
The Lithuanians killed any enthusiasm Parnu still had with a 21-2 start to the final quarter. It gave them a 32-point lead and provided some time to rest for the key players. The final minutes were merely a formality, but Siauliai made sure they made the most out of them and pushed the advantage to 37.
Rokas Giedraitis led the victors with 20 points to his name, while Rolandas Alijevas added 15 points and 6 assists. Ryan Olander scored 14, while Vytas Sulskis and Gintaras Leonavicius chipped in with 11 apiece.
Sandis Silavs and Renato Lindmets were the leading scorers for Parnu with 14 points each. Mikhel Kirves added 11 points, while Janis Vahter ended the game with 10. Parnu’s usual leader Ronaldas Rutkauskas did not play today.
RAKVERE – The closest game of the night occurred in Rakvere, where local Tarvas managed to put up a good fight against Pieno Zvaigzdes. Tarvas were considered a heavy underdog for this game, but managed to stay close and gave the Lithuanians a good scare. The final score, however, was in the Pasvalys side’s favor – 94-87 (30-24; 15-20; 26-24; 23-19).
This might just be the most interesting series, with the Lithuanians only ahead by 7 before the final game in Pasvalys.
While Tarvas had the early lead, Pieno Zvaigzdes managed not only to catch up, but also pass their opponents before the quarter ended. They used an 8-0 run to pull ahead and ended the first period ahead by six.
The three Tarvas’ top scorers – Juris Umbrasko, Brandis Raley-Ross and Julius Brooks – scored all but two of the team’s points in the second quarter and helped the Estonians cut the margin to just one before halftime.
The teams went back and forth in the third quarter, as neither of them could grasp a tangible lead. Unlike in most other today’s matchups, the winner was still not clear after three quarters.
Tarvas struggled early on in the final period and that helped Pieno Zvaigzdes amass a 14-point lead halfway through. However, the Estonians made sure they kept all doors open in the return game and rallied back to only a 5-point deficit. Evaldas Kairys hit the final shot and extended Pasvalys’ lead to 7.
Michael Dixon Jr. was the leading scorer for Pieno Zvaigzdes with 17 points. Evaldas Kairys was impressive with 15 points, while Zygimantas Skucas added 12. Osvaldas Olisevicius added 10, while Tauras Jogela had 9 points. The January MVP Laimonas Kisielius had a poor game with 8 points.
Juris Umbrasko led the losing side in scoring with 23. Brandis Raley-Ross, who was presented with the top-scorer award prior to the game, added 19 points and 6 rebounds. Julius Kavon Brooks finished the game with 16 points and 9 rebounds, while Reinar Hallik ended up scoring 15.
RIGA – Talking about unexpected results, the Barons/LDz – Juventus matchup would be the first one to pop to mind. The Latvians, who entered the BBL Playoffs as the 13th seed, manhandled the best team of the regular season, taking an 82-58 (22-12; 16-10; 23-13; 21-23) victory.
Juventus now face a 24-point deficit before the final match of the two-game series in Utena.
Barons/LDz started hot, pulling ahead by seven halfway through the initial frame. They dominated the boards early on and managed to amass a double-digit lead before the quarter ended.
The situation got much worse for Juventus just before halftime, when Baronas/LDz used a 9-1 run to set themselves up with an 18-point advantage.
The margin slowly grew after the break and reached an insurmountable 23 points after thirty minutes of play. The winner was all but clear and all that was left to find out was the final score. Although the margin had reached 28 with two minutes on the clock, Juventus managed to slightly decrease it and will be hoping for a perfect game back at home.
Dmitro Gliebov was the leading scorer for the Latvian side with 23 points. Kaspars Kambala had an impressive double-double on near-perfect shooting, as he tallied 18 points and 12 rebounds. Pavlo Burenko added 17 points and 6 assists to the victory, Kaspars Cipruss ended the game with 9 points and 13 rebounds.
Juventus played their worst game this season, scoring only 58 points, while their previous lowest scoring performance was 71. Of those 58 points, Vaidas Cepukaitis was responsible for 13, alongside his 9 rebounds. Rashaun Broadus chipped in with 11, while Saulius Kulvietis finished the game with 9 points.