Strong Group Athletics dominates Beirut, 94-72, braces for finals

Strong Group Athletics dominates Beirut, 94-72, braces for finals

UNBEATEN Strong Group Athletics reasserted its mastery of Beirut, 94-72, and barged into the championship match of the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship yesterday at the Al Nasr Club.

NBA veteran Dwight Howard ran roughshod with 26 points, 20 rebounds and three steals as the Filipino club arranged an anticipated titular showdown against reigning champion Al Riyadi of Lebanon.

Led by FIBA Asia Cup MVP Wael Arakji, Al Riyadi drubbed Libya’s Al Ahly Tripoli Sports Club, 83-73, in the other semifinal pairing to also extend its undefeated run.

Behind Mr. Howard’s first 20-20 game in Dubai, Strong Group made sure to gain a shot at Al Riyadi anew in a vengeance bid after absorbing a quarterfinal loss in the last edition. The one-game gold medal duel was to be played last night.

“It’s the last one. We didn’t come here to lose. We got one more (game) and it’s gonna come out really hard and aggressive. This is ours. We believe,” said Mr.  Howard.

The former three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner drew ample support from locals Kevin Quiambao and Justine Baltazar with 18 and 15 points, respectively.

Jordan Heading added 10 points as Strong Group hardly felt the absence of its other ace Andray Blatche due to an ankle injury.

Strong Group, mentored by Charles Tiu with support from Brian Goorjian, Topex Robinson and TY Tang, previously scored a 95-73 romp of Beirut in the group phase and wasn’t to be stopped in the semis anew behind a 50-34 start.

The Frank and Jacob Lao-owned squad led by as many as 26 points en route to its sixth straight win after a 5-0 sweep of Group B and a 92-80 victory against Morocco’s As Sale in the quarterfinals.

Dar Tucker, the naturalized player of Jordan national team, sizzled with 22 points while Alexander Saleh put up 19 points and 11 rebounds for Beirut, which will be up against Al Ahly for the bronze medal. — John Bryan Ulanday