19 September, 2017
06 May, 2018
23 Augusto Lima (ESP)
to read

Road to F4: The Students with all the answers, well prepared for the final exams

ATHENS (Basketball Champions League) - Universitarios have done the studying, now they are ready to take their final exams. But UCAM Murcia are unlike all the other students you know.

Universidad Catolica de Murcia are fast learners, in the sophomore year of their European adventure they have already reached the Final Four, and they can approach it as relaxed as possible. Nothing left to lose for them, they can consider themselves winners no matter what happens in Athens.

It seemed highly unlikely that we'd still be writing about Murcia at this point of season, given the abysmal start to the Basketball Champions League campaign. UCAM started off with a couple of wins over UNET Holon and Enisey Krasnoyarsk, only to start a four-game losing skid that saw them drop games at home against Dinamo Sassari, Pinar Karsiyaka and AS Monaco.

Down at 2-4, Universitarios knew they had to study the international game a bit better. Not sure if they were up all night, reviewing play after play, or if they were on a lock-down in their arena, practicing all the shots - but whatever their method was, it paid back. Big time.

UCAM stormed to a five-game winning streak, taking down Juventus Utena, UNET Holon, Enisey Krasnoyarsk, Dinamo Sassari and EWE Baskets Oldenburg in the process. That last game was the icing on the cake, Ovie Soko's 27-point, 11-rebound double-double got him the MVP of the Week award.

"The fans here are amazing," Soko said. "When they come alive, the team uses this energy. They felt like we were disrespected in our house, and we felt the same way. It gave us big energy."

Wins over Sassari and Oldenburg were huge because Murcia erased their deficits from the defeats earlier on in the season. And the 6-point triumph in Sardinia proved to be the most important one - they owned the tiebreaker over Sassari by just a single point...

Students being students, they went into another slump, closing the group stage out with defeats to Pinar Karsiyaka, AS Monaco and Juventus Utena. Murcia dropped to fourth seed in Group A, knowing they would have to face one of the group winners in the Play-Offs.

Round of 16 - Battle of Spain

And it couldn't have been any harder for them in the draw!

"We came here to play against the reigning champions - not only one of the best teams in the Basketball Champions League, but in (Spanish) Liga Endesa, too," head coach Ibon Navarro described what it was like to face Iberostar Tenerife that early on.

Tenerife won the first game away from home, 71-66, claiming their first win ever in Murcia, in all competitions. Murcia were also winless at the island, but that all changed on March 14.

Murcia surprised the rest of Europe with an 83-72 dismantling of the title holders.

"It was a victory not just (because of our) heart, but also (because of) our concentration as well," coach Navarro said after taking his team among the elite eight.

Quarter-Finals - Back to Turkey

The last hurdle before the Final Four saw the students re-take the Turkish exam. After failing twice in the winter term, they aced the tests in the Quarter-Finals, excelling in a wild, never-ending Game One in Turkey, led by Augusto Lima.

It was all smooth sailing after that, as UCAM collected an 81-72 win in Game Two, clinching their first ever Final Four appearance in a European competition. In just their second international season!

Finals are around the corner. Universitarios don't want to wait for another semester to prove that they should be the Basketball Champions League valedictorian.

Regular Season, Group A
2-0 v UNET Holon (78-76, 81-75)
2-0 v Enisey Krasnoyarsk (68-62, 82-77)
1-1 v Dinamo Sassari (78-83, 94-88)
1-1 v EWE Baskets Oldenburg (80-100, 85-65)
0-2 v Pinar Karsiyaka (91-96, 72-79)
0-2 v AS Monaco (63-68, 83-75)
1-1 v Juventus Utena (93-83, 56-70)

Round of 16
149-143 v Iberostar Tenerife (66-71, 83-72)

160-137 v Pinar Karsiyaka (79-65, 81-72)