Third placed Reading Rockets (20-6) will take on sixth placed Team Solent Kestrels (15-10, one game voided) this Sunday at Rivermead Leisure Complex in the play-off quarter finals (5pm tip-off) with the winners advancing to the semi-finals and an away trip to either second placed Manchester Magic (21-5) or seventh placed Bradford Dragons (14-12) whilst for the losers the season will draw to a close. Rockets finished the season similarly to how they started it as they lost their final three games of the NBL Division One campaign including last weekend’s narrow defeat to runners-up Manchester Magic who took the second spot in the table with a 75-71 win over the Berkshire outfit. The Reading team finished third in the division for the second consecutive season and will face Team Solent Kestrels for a fourth time this season with the Southampton based team losing on the final day of the season and being leapfrogged by Loughborough Student Riders (15-11) who claimed a final day victory over fourth placed Derby Trailblazers 73-84 to set up a re-match with last weekend’s opponents at the quarter-final stage. Rockets are currently undefeated against Sunday’s opposition having claimed victory in the National Trophy pool stages way back in October with a 79-65 scoreline and were also triumphant in league play, defeating the Kestrels 101-79 at home in mid-December before battling to an 88-81 away win in February to lead this season’s series 3-0.
Rockets Head Coach Manuel Peña Garcés has already begun work in preparing for Sunday’s winner takes all game but has been reflecting on last Saturday’s defeat to Manchester as he prepares his team to try and beat Team Solent for a fourth time round, a task he knows will be a very difficult one. After leading his team to third place in the NBL Division One table the Spaniard said,
“The last couple of games have been difficult for us and we are a little disappointed not to have been champions or finish runners-up but we cannot dwell on this, if anything, these losses have provided us with a lot of learning and I think the response we saw in the second half against Manchester and in the preparation we have done this week shows we have taken another step and we will be a challenge for any team in the play-offs. I was really pleased with our fight and determination against Manchester and after being 17 down, to be within one lay-up of tying the game late on after battling so hard, I am pleased and confident we know what we have to do this weekend and hopefully in another two games.”
“This however is going to be tough! It is a ‘one and done’ game and we know that Team Solent, after an impressive first season in Division One, will be really ready to challenge us. I have been impressed with the job Coach Matt (Guymon, Team Solent Head Coach) has done with his group and I am sure they will want to beat us after not succeeding so far this season. They possess many dangers that we will need to study and prepare for and we will also need to find a fourth way to try and beat a unit that averages 82 points a game.”
“This week for us has been about continuing our fight and determination and being committed once again to what we are doing through sacrifice, discipline, and humility. I am really proud of this group and what they represent and I know that by Sunday’s game we will be ready in terms of attitude, desire, and tactics and I hope that we get what we deserve and that is to move on to the semi-finals.”
Rockets go into Sunday’s game without the services of shooting guard Joel Keeble who has been out for the Berkshire club long term with a fractured wrist as well as Under 19 Ibu Jassey Demba who was ruled out for the season last week with a broken hand. The Reading team will hand late fitness tests to both Fidel Gomez De Enterria Lopez and Bikram Rana with the pair forced to sit out last Saturdays’s loss to Manchester with ankle injuries. Both have not played since their EABL defeat to Charnwood College two weeks ago and it will be touch and go if the pair will be fit ahead of Sunday’s play-off quarter final.
Rockets have only lost once at the quarter-final stage of the post season in the last five years and will be hoping to advance to the semi-final stage once more with the ultimate goal of emulating last season’s finale by reaching the play-off final. Having won 19 games in a row this season, the longest streak in NBL Division One this term, Manuel Peña Garcés and his men will fancy their chances but also be desperate to change their form of late and reach the next stage of the play-offs having not picked up any silverware in their last two campaigns as the Rivermead crowd await them on Sunday excited and expectant of a good performance from their home team.
Follow Rockets on Facebook – readingrockets, Twitter – @rocketsreading, or Instagram – rocketsreading