Barcelona guard Cory Higgins closed out the game with 0.5 seconds to go when the regular season’s top seed took on Olimpia Milano on Friday, avoiding overtime and heading into the Championship Game on Sunday against Anadolu Efes – the side which toppled last season’s winners CSKA Moscow.
Third in scoring for his side with 11 points, Higgins was one of the outstanding players in what was an incredibly close game. This 84-82 final score also brings out the fact that both sides had come from 3-2 series wins in the previous round with Barca coming back to beat Zenit St Petersburg, and Milan avoiding one against Bayern Munich.
Speaking after Friday’s game, Higgins said he was thankful the game went in favour of his side.
“Competitors, like I consider myself, live for moments like that. I was having a great game thus far and I wanted to step in for my team which had some foul trouble,” the American said.
“My teammates had been stepping up all game and luckily I came through in the right moment but, I mean, basketball is a funny sport – you have one wide open missed shot, and now we have a chance to win it. So, we could have been sitting here completely devastated if it went the other way. I’m just thankful it went for us.”
Higgins could have missed out on that final shot had he not been on court as he himself was also in foul trouble – sitting on four fouls.
“I got myself into a tough situation but in those tough times, you just need to have faith in yourself, faith in your teammates and just know that everything’s going to work out for you if you stay positive and be engaged in the game,” he said.
Speaking to the Championship Game press conference, Barca coach Sarunas Jasikevicius labelled guard Nick Calathes as questionable after his early exit due to a right ankle injury against Milan on Friday.
“Gametime decision, not a grave injury,” Jasikevicius said.
‘Three quarters of perfect basketball’
In the earlier semi-final game, Anadolu Efes toppled current title holders CSKA Moscow in what could have been anyone’s game in the fourth quarter. Efes may have to rethink their closing strategy if they are to hold off Barcelona on Sunday after they were forced to rely on three quarters of what coach Ergin Ataman called ‘perfect basketball’, before a CSKA surge in the final 10 minutes of the game which brought the game to a close 3-point margin, only possible after a late foul which led guard Shane Larkin to the line.
“We started the game very well. With (Vasilje) Micic’s great organisation, we scored points through (Rodrigue) Beaubois and (Krunoslav) Simon. But things changed in the last quarter,” Ataman said.
“CSKA Moscow changed their strategy and they used a one-on-one attack with (Will) Clyburn and (Daniel) Hackett. We had a hard time stopping Clyburn, he managed to finish it every time.
“We were tired and lost a lot of turnovers. Our players from the sidelines also made mistakes and stressed this quarter. Regardless, it’s a semi-final and we’ve found a way to win.”
The side banked on Micic, the tournament’s MVP, on Friday as he led with 25 points and six assists, but the Serbian guard was fouled out late in the game after having played around 36 minutes.
“I don’t want it to sound like an excuse, but I was very tired and ended up making a lot of mistakes,” Micic explained post-game.
The two sides have faced each other 35 times in European competition so far with Efes winning 15 and Barca taking 20. The championship game takes place at the Lanxess Arena in Cologne, following the third-place game between CSKA and Milan.