3x3 power Liman get back to their winning ways at Ultra Novi Sad Challenger, book ticket to Lausanne Masters
NOVI SAD (Serbia) - After the heartbreak of losing the final at the Manila Masters, 3x3 power Liman Huishan NE (SRB) bounced back in style on home soil (Liman is a district of Novi Sad) to claim the Ultra Novi Sad Challenger on June 3-4.
Unbeaten Liman dominated the second Challenger of the season to book a ticket to the Lausanne Masters.
The winners: Liman (SRB)
They were: No.1 in ppg, best shooting value and fewest points conceded
Liman had been stopped in the first two Masters of the seasons by compatriots Ub (SRB), who won a quarter-final OT classic at the Utsunomiya Opener before winning the final fairly convincing in Manila.
But with Ub, who were missing injured world No.1 Strahinja Stojacic, knocked out in the quarters, Liman could not be stopped as they kept both American teams Chicago and Princeton under 10 points in the pool stage.
They survived a scare in the quarter-finals against rival Riga (LAT) and weathered a storm from 'The Maze' Nauris Miezis, before rolling past Antwerp (BEL) - who again fell in the semis - and finally Amsterdam (NED).
It was a total team effort as usual from the Serbs led by sniper Stefan Kojic, who was on target in Novi Sad to be equal top scorer overall with 30 points. He had plenty of support with Nebojsa Kilijan, Mihailo Vasic and Aleksandar Ratkov all in the top 10 of scorers.
The four-pronged attack were unstoppable on O but Liman also clamped down on D and incredibly conceded just 11.4 ppg in one of the most emphatic two-way performances seen in a long time. And it made sense that their best defender - Tokyo 2020 Olympics bronze medalist Ratkov - won MVP (he led the team in player value in general).
After a season of heartbreak so far, the reigning World Tour champs weren't going to be down for long and they are back where they belong - collecting titles!
The runners-up: Amsterdam (NED)
Team Amsterdam were one of the risers in 2021 and they seem to have maintained their place in the elite category after a semi-final finish in Utsunomiya and then making the final in Novi Sad.
The Dutch Masters had tight Ws over Riga and Aachen Der Stamm (GER) in pool play before another close victory over Princeton in the quarters. With more thrillers than a Stephen King collection, Amsterdam pulled out a 20-18 semi-final win over in-form Sakiai Gulbele (LTU) but couldn't contain Liman's firepower in the decider.
One-two punch: Amsterdam's stars Dimeo van der Horst and Maksim Kovacevic were outstanding in Novi Sad with a combined 55 points and a slew of clutch buckets to help their team win a ticket to the Lausanne Masters,
The dynamic duo were deadly from inside the arc shooting upwards of 50% but in a scary prospect for opponents they can get even better after struggling from downtown.
With van der Horst and Kovacevic high in the pecking order of 3x3 duos, Amsterdam continue to be a major force on the pro circuit.
The Final: Liman Huishan NE 21- Amsterdam 12
The two unbeaten teams squared off in the decider in front of a packed crowd willing the Serbians on.
But big fella Maksim Kovacevic, back in his native Serbia, played bully ball for the first bucket of the game and then his partner-in-crime Dimeo van der Horst hit the fancy layup in a brilliant start for Amsterdam.
But you knew Liman was going to hit back as Stefan Kojic went on a personal scoring binge, including going bang, bang, to give his team a commanding 7-2 lead.
The Dutch Masters were rattled as they went ice cold apart from van der Horst who responded with a pair of twos to get Amsterdam back in the ball game.
Liman again threatened to take control as they scored 5 straight points but van der Horst was deadly from deep - proving he can flip the switch after struggling from twos all tournament.
It was anyone's game at 14-12 but Liman decided to put the foot down with Nebojsa Kilijan killing it from downtown as a pumped up Mihailo Vasic was hyping up the crowd with the finish line in sight.
Kilijan then ended it in style with an outrageous step back two as Liman return to the winner's list.
The reward: Two tickets to Lausanne Masters
Liman Huishan NE and Amsterdam qualified for the Lausanne Masters on August 19-20, 2022.
They join Ub Huishan NE (SRB), Jeddah (KSA) and San Juan (PUR) as the teams to have so far qualified for the fourth Masters of the season.
1.Liman Huishan NE (SRB)
2. Amsterdam (NED)
3. Antwerp (BEL)
4. Sakiai Gulbele (LTU)
5. Vienna (AUT)
1. Stefan Kojic (Liman Huishan NE, SRB) 30 pts
2. Dimeo van der Horst (Amsterdam, NED) 30 pts
3. Thibaut Vervoort (Antwerp, BEL) 29 pts
4. Nauris Miezis (Riga, LAT) 28 pts
5. Aurelijus Pukelis (Sakiai Gulbele, LAT) 27 pts
- Two of the top four seeds didn't reach the semis with red-hot Ub, who won in Utsunomiya and Manila, defeated in the quarters by Antwerp while fourth seed Riga lost a thriller to Liman.
- Testament to their dominance, Liman had the two fastest games of the tournament after victories over Chicago (7'01") and Princeton (7'15'') in pool play.
- MVP Aleksandar Ratkov continues to go under the radar but always gets the job done after dominating the glass with a tournament high 25 rebounds and he also topped player value (33.8).