When these teams met last it was Ikhlas winning 52-43, but Asr had been playing extremely well and had won their last five games. The strong play from Asr and the struggling form of Ikhlas had some pundits picking an upset in this game and they nearly got it. Asr knew they would be in for a big challenge when it was announced that leading scorer Zahir Kolia was done for the playoffs with an injury to his hand.
|Ikhlas escapes with win; Cinderella run for Asr is over
||Jan 23, 2006
The game started with Asr showing their veteran poise as they worked the ball around unselfishly for good shots down low. Ikhlas recognized the mismatch in the post and fed the ball into Jason Stephens who took advantage of his size for some easy baskets. Asr started to build a bit of a lead and with 12 minutes left in the half, Abbas Alidina drained a long three pointer and was fouled by Sherif Shehata in the process, after hitting the free throw to complete the four-point play, Asr was up 17-10. Shehata started to take control of the game as he recognized the mismatch he had and used his quickness to get some quick baskets, Asr made adjustments on defense to try and contain the damage that Shehata was inflicting. Asr called for a timeout with 2:42 left in the half and leading 28-24. The first half ended with Asr leading 30-26; Alidina led Asr with 8 points and 6 rebounds while Shehata finished with 14 points and Stephens with 10 points.
The second half started with Asr getting a basket but at a great cost as their "floor general" Teepu Khawja injured his ankle. Khawja was forced out of the game with 18:09 left and his team up 32-26. Almost immediately Asr seemed to be shaken by this loss as they turned the ball over on back to back offensive possessions and gave up a couple of easy baskets on defense. Ikhlas took their first lead of the game with 10:36 left as they went up 36-35. The teams kept it tight and with 3 minutes left it was all tied up at 39, with both teams over the limit for fouls the game was heading for an exciting finish. Shehata recognized a mismatch down low and fed the ball to Stephens who made no mistake and hit a jumpshot for a 41-39 Ikhlas lead. Amir Butt tried to tie the game for Asr but was fouled and sent to the line for two free throws and the chance to tie the game up, he missed both shots and Emmanuel Ankrah grabbed the rebound and was fouled. Ankrah missed the front end of a single bonus situation; Reza Mohammed grabbed the rebound and spotted Ali Merali who had slipped behind the Ikhlas defenders. Merali missed a wide-open 6-foot jumper when he saw Stephens running towards him and adjusted his shot. Ankrah got the rebound and was again fouled and sent to the line. Ankrah missed the front end of the single bonus shot and Mohammed grabbed the rebound and called a timeout with 26.6 seconds left and Asr down 41-39. Asr ran their play but Butt turned the ball over and was forced to foul Ankrah once again. Ankrah hit his first free throw for a 42-39 Ikhlas lead but missed the second and ended up fouling Butt. Butt had an opportunity to make it a one point game but missed both free throws once again, Butt ended up recovering the ball after his second miss but his shot missed and Shehata grabbed the loose ball and was fouled. Shehata drained both free throws to give Ikhlas a 44-39 lead and secure the win.
Ikhlas was led in scoring by Stephens who finished with 21 points and Shehata who pitched in with 16 points. Asr spread the scoring around but was led by Alidina who finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds. The turning point for Asr appeared to be the loss of Khawja as their offence only managed to score 7 points in the final 18 minutes. Asr did not help themselves by shooting 3 for 15 from 3-point area and an atrocious 8 for 22 from the free throw line.
Ikhlas will now move onto the finals to face the winner of the Zilzal versus Nas game. Ikhlas clearly appeared despondent after the game, as this was the third game in a row that they could just have easily lost in the final minute. Ikhlas will need to regroup if they hope to win the West Championship.