Glasgow University faced a baptism of fire in their inaugural match in the British University basketball Premiership against a Leeds Carnegie side looking to defend their British crown. It’s the first time the squad have competed in the countries top tear and it was a performance that demonstrated that last seasons runaway Scottish champions have a long way to go before they can compete for UK wide honours.
Carnegie secured their BUCS title in April and started this seasons campaign with the same intensity that they finished the last as they were rampant from the outset against a sluggish Glasgow team showing signs of jet lag from their recent North American tour. At times the visitors seemed to simply operate on a totally different level; faster in thought and attack with their noticeable height advantage ensuring that almost every rebound seemed to be secured by the opposition.
Glasgow were rocking early on under the relentless Leeds pressure, with defensive indiscipline costing them countless sloppy fouls whilst in attack they failed to find any range and rhythm .
Glasgow seemed to be suffering from stage fright, which was readily exploited by Leeds duo of David Ajumobi and the diminutive, but dynamic Shaun Clifford, who together orchestrated proceedings early on.
Ajumobi seemed to illustrate the sheer class difference between the two sides with a dominant performance throughout. Standing at 6’5 he delivered an MVP performance scoring not only 27 points, but playing with fierce tenacity as part of a defence that Glasgow consistently struggled to breakdown.
The home side however were dragged back into the game by Lithuanian Ugnius Zasimauskas who led the Glasgow resistance, top scoring with 24-points. His hot streak of 3 pointers saw Glasgow start to generate some momentum but the first quarter ended with a cruel 3 pointer from Clifford that narrowly beat the buzzer.
An acrobatic Ajumobi slam-dunk was an ominous statement of intent at the start of the 2nd quarter with Leeds showing the same attacking urgency, leaving Glasgow at times simply to chase shadows. Leeds had time and space to turn on the flare with the sparse Glasgow crowd at times being treated to something of a Harlem Globetrotters tribute act. Yet Leeds were prepared to mix pretty with gritty as they raced out to an 20 point lead, effectively killing the game before half time, with the visitors showing the merciless edge of a team who truly know what it takes to be champions.
Glasgow struggled to make any inroads, and Leeds hit 15 answered points in the second quarter before Zasimauskas finally hit back with a couple more 3-pointers to give Glasgow a glimour of hope going into the interval. Yet it was a dejected Glasgow that trudged off at half time but Coach Lawton must have had the infamous hairdryer because Glasgow came out performing in the same manner that saw them coast to last seasons domestic crown.
There was a renewed sense of energy and vigour that had been badly lacking, with a team no longer satisfied to be bullied and embarrassed on court. Zasimauskas was at his influential best, alongside fellow countryman Vytautas Astromskas but every time Glasgow were able to ask questions of the visitors the Leeds team were able to conjure up all the answers. The frustration mapped on Lawton’s face was evident as he saw his side boss around the British champions for 20 minutes knowing that with a more disciplined first half and they really could have announced their arrival to the big time with one of the greatest shocks in BUCS history.
With the match poised at 46-65 going into the final quarter it was always going to take an element of the Houdini for Glasgow to pull off any sort of great escape but the match stuttered to the sort of anti-climatic finish that was undeserving of such a compelling contest. As Glasgow desperately chased the game they were forced to give away numerous free throws as they looked to stop the clock and Leeds displayed the ruthless streak of a team who will surely be favourites to reclaim their title in the Spring.
Leeds ran out winners by 18 points but it was a scoreline that reflected harshly on the endeavour of Glasgow’s second half performance. Coach Lawton must instil in his side the belief that they can compete at this level; at times in the first half they seemed spectators happy to simply savour the occasion but after half time they showed a resilience that forced the British Champions to start treating them with some respect. And on this showing Lawton will be cautiously optimistic that under his tutelage this young Glasgow side have the potential to develop into a real force in British basketball.