Worcester Wolves could give their BBL Championship challenge a real boost when they host Newcastle Eagles in a battle of the top two on Friday.
Jamal Williams feels both sides have improved since Wolves claimed the season curtain-raiser 86-81 at Sport Central as Robert Thurman made a big impression on his debut.
Eagles have not lost a game since then however, and sit top of the table, four points head of Paul James’ men with a game in hand.
But Wolves could take a big step towards the title, and make a real statement of intent with victory on Friday.
“There are no mental challenges, outside of any other game,” said Williams.
“Both teams will be ready for each other. We did get the first game on them, but they are a far better team now, and so are we
“This game on Friday would give us a great boost in many ways. Ending their winning streak, closing the gap between us, and taking the upper hand for a tie-breaker.”
As Eagles have racked up the wins, 19 in a row to be precise, Wolves too have performed well, coping admirably in the absence of star man Thurman over the Christmas period.
Williams attributes much of that to the arrival of Paul Guede, and feels such experience could benefit the team moving forward with Thurman now back in the line-up.
Williams added: “The addition of Paul Guede has been a major part for our success with Rob injured, his skill set and basketball IQ has made the transition very smooth for our team.
“To keep it rolling, more time together will help. In the short term, we need to continue moving the ball on offence, running our sets and getting stops on the other end.”
Wolves might also hope that Eagles have one eye on the BBL Cup Final against Glasgow Rocks, which takes place less than 48 hours later at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena.
Last time they met:
Newcastle Eagles 81 Worcester Wolves 86 (BBL Championship, Sport Central, 26/09/2014)
What they say:
Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy: “Worcester are close to the top so we know they will present us with a significant challenge.
“I like the way that they have remodelled their team recently and I think they are playing their best basketball of the season. We will have to be mentally and physically ready to play.”
Sterling Davis believes Glasgow Rocks’ route to the BBL Cup Final has prepared them for the challenge of facing Newcastle Eagles in Birmingham on Sunday.
Rocks’ only previous trip to the BBL Cup Final ended in defeat to Guilford Heat back in 2007, and having lost to Worcester Wolves on their home floor in last season’s BBL Trophy Final, the club’s solitary top-flight silverware remains the 2003 Play-offs.
But Davis has seen a development in his squad this season. After the disappointment of missing out on the post-season last term, Rocks have responded.
The club’s rocky road to Sunday’s final included an impressive defeat of London Lions and late drama against Leicester Riders before overcoming travel chaos to beat Bristol Flyers.
And coming through each challenge means Rocks are ready to complete the journey, according to their player-coach.
“I think up to this point we have handled the progression of the competition well,” said Davis.
“Every round you progress builds a little more mental character. I think our group of guys will step up to the challenge of playing the game to win.”
He added: “It would mean a lot to us all. We were close last season to a piece of silverware so want to turn our fortunes this time around to make it happen.
“Our fans have been great over the years and they deserve it.”
The Cup finalists actually met in Rocks’ previous game.
Eagles claimed an 18th straight win in that contest – and could yet reach 20 before Sunday.
But Davis does not feel that was a true reflection of his team’s talent.
“Hopefully we will be able to take something useful away from that game that will propel us to a win in the Final,” he said.
“We were very rusty and lethargic – credit to Newcastle on their performance – but I feel we have a better performance in us than we showed in that game.”
Last time they met:
Glasgow Rocks 69 Newcastle Eagles 88 (BBL Championship, Emirates Arena 28/12/2014)
What they say:
Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy: “It clearly isn’t just any other game, it is the Cup Final. However, what we strive to attain is a consistency of approach to every game. So in that way I hope that our guys will simply use it as an opportunity to put into practice what we have tried to do every game this season.”