Karşıyaka runner-up in Eurochallenge Cup after bitter last-gasp defeat

Karşıyaka runner-up in Eurochallenge Cup after bitter last-gasp defeat

Karşıyaka runner-up in Eurochallenge Cup after bitter last-gasp defeat

Karşıyaka played the Final Four at their home court in İzmir. AA photo

Pınar Karşıyaka failed to bring İzmir its first continental basketball trophy, losing in the finals of the FIBA Eurochallenge Cup after a last-gasp 76-77 defeat against Russians Krasnye Krylya. Despite the advantage of playing the Final Four in front of its enthusiastic fans, Karşıyaka could not manage to hold its nerves during the thrilling fourth quarter to overcome the surge of their rivals.

"Kaf-Kaf," as its fans affectionately call the team, failed to capitalize on the double-digit lead they built up during the first half. The İzmir side still stayed in the game until the last seconds, thanks to late heroics of their American playmaker Bobby Dixon and forward Ümit Sonkol, but allowed too many easy baskets, which finally ended up being crucial and sealed a bitter defeat after a memorable game.

Both teams started the game by trading baskets and not allowing their rival to increase the gap. A three pointer by Dixon helped Karşıyaka to take a small lead and edge Krylya by three points in the end of the first quarter. Kaf-Kaf gained momentum in the second quarter and started quickly to increase the gap, with successive three pointers by Sonkol, Dixon and Jon Diebler and entered the break with a commanding 46-34 lead.

Karşıyaka continued to open the gap in the beginning of the third quarter and brought the scoreboard to 53-36. When the Turkish side seemed poised to cruise to an easy victory with the support of their fans, the tables suddenly turned and Krasnye Krylya improved their consistency in defense and built an improbable comeback bit by bit. The Russians did not allow Karşıyaka any points and reduced the gap to two points after an 18-2 run.

Still Karşıyaka took back the command of the game in the last quarter and increased their lead to six points. However the Russians' solid defense was creating big problems for the İzmir side's offensive players. Krasnye Krylya made fewer mistakes in the last sequence of the game and managed to hold Karşıyaka to claim the third-tier continental competition title.

With the defeat, Karşıyaka failed to bring the trophy to Turkey a second year in a row – Beşiktaş won the competition last year. Efes Pilsen was the first Turkish team to lift a European trophy with its Korac Cup victory in 1996. The legendary squad of Efes included Ufuk Sarıca, the current coach of Karşıyaka, who just missed achieving as a coach the success he had as a player.