It will be the first time the final has been staged outside England, and a big crowd is expected at the impressive new venue to see who takes home the silverware in its 26th title game.
The Riders have never won the competition, finishing runners up in 1992 and 2006, while Sharks took home the Trophy in 1998 when a late three pointer from Terrell Myers sealed victory against London Towers.
There’s little doubt that Rob Paternostro’s Leicester side will go into the game as favourites as they head into the weekend sitting top of the BBL Championship table with a 20-2 record and have already collected the BBL Cup with a victory against Newcastle Eagles.
The Sharks have saved some of their best performances of the season for the knockout competitions, and are currently eighth in the table with a 9-14 record but have games in hand over all of the sides except Riders.
Results in the games between the teams have also gone Riders’ way this season with Leicester boasting a perfect 4-0 record in their match-ups.
The two BBL Championship games have seen similar scores, with Riders winning 71-55 on the road in September and 72-51 at home a month ago. The teams also met in the BBL Cup semi-final with Riders winning convincingly on both occasions, 90-70 on the road in the first leg and 75-45 at home in the return.
Despite those results, Paternostro refused to take the Sharks lightly: “You’ve got to give Atiba Lyons a lot of credit. They had a tough start to the season but he made changes and they’re playing their best basketball of the season. They have veterans who have won many games in this league, some new young players who have been effective season this season. It’ll be our fifth time playing them already and you can forget the previous results as both teams will know so much about each other.
“When you look at their team, you have to respect and admire Mike Tuck for what he does for them. His rebounding and offence is obvious, but you also have to look for his leadership.”
In what is clearly Riders’ most successful season in their long history, Paternostro is unsurprisingly a happy man: “I’m absolutely delighted to be sitting here in March going into our second straight final with this team and the third with the club. It shows how far we’ve come as we’ve brought a winning basketball mentality to the programme. I’m sure it’ll be a great final.”
Sharks’ coach Lyons is looking to build on a two-leg semi-final against Cheshire Phoenix which saw his side produce some of their best basketball of the season: “We did a great job defensively against Cheshire and took them out of any transition by rebounding the ball.
“We managed to hit shots in the first game and that gave us some breathing space. I was also happy we kept our foot on the gas in the second game and this is the type of intensity and focus we need against Riders.
“We are going to have to shoot the ball better than we have all season because we know it is going to be the most difficult and challenging game of the season. However, we know we can’t and won’t be dictated to in terms of tempo and we will be aggressive and confident when we step out.
“This is not just a final about limiting them, it’s also about knowing and thinking about what we can do too.”
Riders recorded double-digit victories on the road against Essex Leopards and Surrey Heat in the opening two rounds before a classic semi-final last weekend saw them edge out Worcester Wolves 148-141 on aggregate.
Sharks found things tougher in the opening stages, winning 85-73 at Manchester Giants in the first round after overtime and then needing overtime once again to beat Glasgow Rocks 84-81 in the last eight. However the semi-final saw a dominant 74-60 win at Phoenix in the first leg before the visitors were despatched 102-74 at home for a 176-134 aggregate success.
Story – BBL
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