Wed, 31 Aug 1994

Russia sleepwalks to Independence Cup title

JAKARTA (JP): Basketball purists can breathe a sigh of relief, the fifth Independence Cup is now history.

With last night's win, Russia can lay claim to being the best basketball team in Indonesia right now.

But that's not saying much.

In a game that more closely resembled a schoolyard pick-up game where the players aren't too familiar with each other's moves, a skeleton Russian team defeated Saudi Arabia 72-54.

Granted, the Russians played without the bulk of the team which won the contest to finish second behind the American Dream Team II at last month's World Championships, but that doesn't excuse their sloppy first half performance last night.

Three members of Russia's team here were on the side that beat a tough Croatian team in Toronto. Playing against and defeating a team that included the likes of solid NBA players Toni Kukoc and Dino Radja (of Croatia) should count for something.

The first half was a little hard on the eyes.

The Senayan faithful were treated to a succession of air balls, bricks and out-of-control play.

Baskets were few and far between. Wide-open lay-ups weren't even a sure thing.

Calling the first half a defensive struggle is too kind.

The Russians bulled their way to a 19-16 lead before the quicker Saudis parlayed their athletic ability into an 18-5 run to take an eight point lead at halftime.

Pep talk

Whatever the Russian coach said during the intermission must have rubbed off because the team that took the court for the second half played like they had a plane to catch.

Gone were the errant passes, the careless fouls and the matador defense.

The Russians stopped playing down to the Saudis level and simply put the game away.

They scored the first eight points of the second half so fast that Saudi coach Randy Haefner could do nothing but call a quick timeout in a futile attempt to regroup.

The clock may have stopped, but the momentum had clearly swung the Russians way.

The Saudis closed to within 51-44 before running out of steam.

The Russians played the rest of the game the way a miler shifts into a higher gear for the final lap, not even forgetting to lean at the tape.

It was all Russia, as the Saudis began to fade.

The final margin of 18 points would have been a lot wider if the Russians had received an earlier wake-up call.

The estimated 450 in attendance can be thankful that the second half wasn't a repeat of the first, or else they would have been left wondering if the wrong Russian team had been sent here.

Those that showed up early at least got to witness a near melee during the consolation game which was won by South Korea over the United Arab Emirates 56-45.

Senayan stadium personnel can now tackle the urgent task of replacing the rims that were the targets of such abuse over the past week. (brd/hdj)