Five must watch pool games at FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final 2021
JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia) - The wait is almost over and we've saved the best to last in this crazy FIBA 3x3 World Tour season with the Jeddah Final on December 17-18.
To continue our countdown, let's look at five games you just have to watch in the pool stage.
Ub v San Juan
These breakout teams in 2021 want to complete their fairy tale seasons on the ultimate high. It's quite fitting a rivalry has formed between them, which is set to take another level in Jeddah.
It all started in Lausanne when the teams rather quietly met in the pool stage and 4th seed Ub convincingly won 21-12 against 12th seed San Juan, who appeared on the brink of exiting early.
While new-look Ub confirmed their credentials as a genuine power, remarkably San Juan went on a dream run as the teams met in an unexpected final. The red-hot Puerto Ricans couldn't be stopped as they ran past a cold-shooting Ub with veteran Gilberto Clavell unstoppable as San Juan claimed the title.
The re-match had to wait until the Abu Dhabi Masters, where Ub claimed revenge with Strahinja Stojacic dominating with 11 points.
But the best might be saved for Jeddah when they clash on Day 1 in a contest that has much more than bragging rights on the line.
San Juan won't have Clavell in the line-up but Luis Hernandez aka 'Pela Coco' didn't play previously against Ub and he will be tough to handle after being a highlight reel in Mexico City.
Don't be surprised if they meet again on Day 2 in Jeddah.
Liman v Sakiai Gulbele
These teams are well familiar with each other having played numerously over the years, including a thriller at the Montreal Masters 2019 where Sakiai lost a one-point Day 1 epic battle but bounced back to win their only Masters title.
Games between these two teams are usually see-sawing affairs and they've split their contests this season with Liman winning in Doha before Sakiai turned the tables in the quarter-finals in Debrecen.
On that occasion Darius Tarvydas dominated with a game-high 10 points after a quiet effort in Doha, but he won't be in Jeddah putting pressure on star Aurelijus Pukelis in what shapes as a vital game in a tough Pool C.
Both teams have not performed to their best in 2021 but will be desperate to end the season well fuelling this much-anticipated contest.
Jeddah v San Juan
It's tough competition, but Pool B is probably the 'Group of Death' and this blockbuster clash between Masters champs in 2021 could well shape who gets through to Day 2.
San Juan drew first blood in Mexico City with a fairly convincing 21-14 victory over the Prague Masters Champs, but Jeddah is set to be more formidable this time around in front of their fans.
Both teams will remain unchanged from Mexico City and if they are to reverse their fortunes, Jeddah need to do a better job limiting Luis Hernandez on the glass after he dominated with 9 rebounds.
It might just come down to who wants it more in what shapes as a fiery battle between two of the surprise packets in 2021.
Antwerp v Amsterdam Talent&Pro
You don't want to miss this between two of the power teams of 2021. We know Belgium and Netherlands have a special rivalry and that is now translating into 3x3.
It all started at the Tokyo Olympics where Belgium won on a Thibaut Vervoort buuzer beater in the pool phase.
Since then, the 2 teams have met twice on the World Tour under their pro team names of Antwerp and Amsterdam, with the Dutchmen winning both games.
But it wasn't easy in Debrecen with Amsterdam clinging on in an 18-17 quarter-final thriller with the Belgians unable to get the ball to sniper Thibaut Vervoort on the buzzer.
Amsterdam, however, had an easier time in the Montreal Masters semi-finals, where they won 21-12. Their World Tour leading defense completely shut down Antwerp and their size has made it difficult for walking bucket Vervoort, who has only scored 11 points on 3 of 14 from 2 in those games.
He and his teammates will need to find a way to crack Amsterdam's defensive code otherwise they face the prospect of being whitewashed by their rivals in 2021.
Gagarin v Liman
Gagarin have had issues replicating their dream World Tour debut when they reached the Prague Masters title game back in 2018, but always bring it against powerhouse Liman.
The Serbian masters though proved too strong in Prague with a 21-15 victory but young guns Gagarin bounced back in Mexico City with a thrilling 22-19 win. Gagarin star Alexander Zuev recovered after failing to score against the Serbs in Prague with a trademark brilliant effort as he poured in 8 points in Mexico City
The Russians, who boast three Olympic Silver medalists, have regained their swagger after a semi-final finish in Mexico City and want to take down Liman, who are no guarantee to get out of Pool C after an underwhelming season (for their high standards!!!)
Will this game signal a changing of the guard? We can't wait to find out.