Basketball: Edinburgh University seek unique cup double

Edinburgh University women, who are unbeaten this season, defend the Cup against first time finalists St Andrews

Edinburgh University women, who are unbeaten this season, defend the Cup against first time finalists St Andrews

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Just more than 50 years ago, Edinburgh University men beat Glasgow’s Pearce Institute 68-66 at Portobello High School to win the Scottish Cup for the fourth time in six final appearances.

That team, including several Mormon divinity students from the USA, were the last EU men to pick up the coveted trophy first contested in 1947 and first won by Edinburgh University in 1949.

Edinburgh University men face St Mirren tomorrow

Edinburgh University men face St Mirren tomorrow

Tomorrow, at the Lagoon Centre, Paisley, at 5.15pm, an Edinburgh University team containing just one American, sharp-shooter Ron Adrian, will bid to wrest back the cup by defeating local heroes St Mirren.

They will also seek to set up the first half of what could be a unique double for the Capital students as, on Sunday at 3.30pm, EU women will be firm favourites to retain their trophy against first time finalists St Andrews University.

For most of the last half century EU have only contested local league and inter-university competition but two years ago there came a change of heart.

Increased support from the University, particularly for the women, has resulted in a big impact on the national scene.

“It’s a terrific achievement for the team to reach the final in only their second season in the national league,” says men’s coach Danny Costello, whose team lie in fourth place in the league and are not totally out of contention.

“Although not reflected in their league position, St Mirren have arguably the strongest, tallest and best balanced team in Scotland so we’ll have to be at our best.”

Costello is no stranger to cup finals having been victorious six times with Edinburgh Kings, but neither is Saints coach Stuart Glass, whose side lost narrowly to Falkirk Fury in a high-scoring 99-96 shoot-out at the same venue last year.

“We like finals,” he says.

However, EU have beaten St Mirren both home and away in the league this season.

EU women’s coach Bart Sengars is the only full-time pro coach in the league and has followed up his team’s cup success in their rookie season – they beat Scottish League champions Edinburgh Kool Kats 70-59 in the 2015 final – by taking them on an unbeaten run in Scottish games this campaign, their nearest to defeat coming at St Andrews when they were taken to overtime.

More importantly in terms of their targets they are becoming a real force in the British Universities Northern Premier Division, which comprises some of the best teams in Britain.

“While last year we needed an upset to win, this year we’re favourites – that’s a new situation for us but surely one that we can handle,” says Sengars.

“If we keep sharing the ball the way we have been of late I’m confident we can win.”

Back in the EU team after a year in Vancouver, when she was unlucky enough to suffer anterior cruciate ligament damage which required an operation, GB junior cap Hilary Wood cannot wait for Sunday: “It’s good to be back playing with such a hard-working team and it means a lot to us, and me personally after my knee injury and coming back to Scotland, to have made the final.

“We’ve been playing really well recently and hopefully we can play like that on Sunday,” said the former Polonia Phoenix point guard, who is one of three in the team who have had recent ACL surgery.

Another is Sarah Halejian, who leads in assists and helps their top scorers Erin McDonnell and Dori Lansbach find the basket more easily, according to coach Sengars.

There is more Capital interest in the Junior Men’s final on Sunday (1.15pm) when Edinburgh Kings will be favourites to beat second division side West Lothian Wolves, who have done remarkably well to reach this stage.

Wolves also contest the cadette women’s final against St Mirren tomorrow (10.30am) and the junior women’s v Glasgow Rocks (12.45pm) while Lothian Phoenix play St Mirren Warriors in the wheelchair final tomorrow (3pm).

Boroughmuir Blaze complete the Capital array, playing Stirling Knights in the cadet men’s final on Sunday (11am).