The West League Finals saw to undefeated teams collide in a rematch of sorts as the core players of each team met up in the I-Slam Tournament Finals in March 2005. On that day it was Nas that walked away with the win but the game was tight right down to the final buzzer. It would be interesting to see which playing style would prevail - Nas with their slow patient approach or Ikhlas with their run and gun. Ikhlas also welcomed back guard Neil Sehra who had missed their last three games.
|Ikhlas left standing after battle of undefeated teams
||Jan 31, 2006
The game began with the teams playing tentatively as neither team wanted to commit unforced turnovers, Ikhlas made an effort to channel the ball into Jason Stephens in the post and work from there. The strategy was working as Ikhlas was getting points but hit a snag when Stephens picked up his second personal foul and was forced to the bench early. Ikhlas found their offensive game getting further untracked when guard Mohamud Bashir was forced to the bench with his second personal foul. Ikhlas called for a timeout with 6:57 left in the half and the game tied up at 9 points, their offense was struggling after all the foul trouble and Nas was playing good defense to add to the problem. For Nas their offense seemed to have trouble finding its rhythm but defensively they were buoyed by a pair of great defensive plays when first Camran Baig pinned Sehra's lay-up attempt and a few minutes later Ibrahim Baig pinned Tarek Shehata's shot. Strong defense can only carry a team to a point as Nas was struggling to get Ibrahim Baig the ball and called for a timeout with 3:21 left and losing 15-13 as they tried to regroup. The strategy worked as when the first half ended, Ikhlas was leading 18-17. Stephens led all players with 11 points and 13 rebounds while Rami Othman led Nas with 9 points. Ibrahim Baig did not score a field goal and finished with 3 points, all from the free throw line.
The second half began with Sherif Shehata showing his quickness as he stole the inbound pass and set up Bashir for a breakaway lay-up to start the half. Ikhlas continued to hold the lead and they began to pressure the ball more frequently trying to get more steals. With Nas already down, they were dealt a further blow when Imran Baig injured his knee with 14:55 left and was done for the day. Ikhlas sensed that Nas was disorganized and Sherif Shehata took advantage as he scored a lay-up and hit a three pointer within 30 seconds to put his team up 31-21 and force Nas to use a timeout. Ibrahim Baig finally scored his first field goal of the game with 6:39 left when he put in a lay-up. With 1:30 left in the game Ikhlas was up by a score of 41-36 but had Stephens leave the game after fouling out. Tarek Shehata was quick to follow him to the sidelines when he picked up his fifth foul. Rami Othman hit both his free throws from the Tarek Shehata foul to make it a 41-38 game. Nas was left in the position of having to foul Ikhlas players and send them to the line with the hope of catching up. Bashir was the first Ikhlas player to be fouled and hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Ikhlas up 42-38 with 55 seconds left. Nas was unable to hit their shot and fouled Sehra who hit both free throws for a 44-38 lead. Nas managed to score but allowed Sehra to get the inbound and sent him to the line where he hit both free throws again for a 46-40 lead. Nas was unable to get a basket and fouled Bashir who hit 1 of 2 free throws for a 47-40 lead and the win.
Stephens led Ikhlas with 15 points and 17 rebounds; Sehra finished with 10 points while Sherif Shehata finished with 7 points. Nas was led by Othman with 16 points while Ibrahim Baig was held to just 8 points as the Nas point guards never showed an ability to give him the ball at the right time the entire game.
Ikhlas finished 7-0 in the regular season and won all three playoff games to take the championship. Team captain Sherif Shehata deserves a great deal of credit for assembling a team that balanced quick guards with solid big men. The only question now is whether he can keep this team together for next season and an opportunity to repeat.