Six years ago in Chennai, Punjab won its men’s National title after bagging the crown last in 1999 in Jaipur, with an enthralling performance in the final over Tamil Nadu. Since then, Punjab has reached the final only once, in New Delhi in 2014.
Unlike then (2011), the team now is fresh barring the veteran point guard Talwinderjit Singh Sahi and a couple of others.
Reaching the Union Territory of Puducherry after travelling for nearly 19 hours by train, Punjab struggled in the group matches of the ongoing 67th Senior National basketball championship, losing to Karnataka and Kerala, while beating Haryana.
Against Indian Railways in the quarterfinals, Punjab showed a brief glimpse of its immense potential, with an impressive 101-83 triumph. It will now clash with Uttarakhand, the two-time champion, which drubbed Haryana 60-35 in the last-eight clash.
In a pretty-one-sided contest, Tamil Nadu put it across Kerala 72-52 to book a place in the last four, where it will take on surprise semifinalist Rajasthan. Coming through Level-II, Rajasthan pulled off an upset 83-70 win over Karnataka to reach the last four after 25 years.
The good news for Punjab, though, was that its star player Talwinderjit returned to peak form. With a two-point deficit in the first, Punjab attacked and defended with gusto. Talwinderjit took the lead with his drive-ins, lay-ups and quick passing. Rajveery Singh Aujla provided excellent support with timely two and three-pointers. Gurwinder Singh Gill, too, chipped in whenever the team looked like slipping. As a result, Punjab was always ahead from midway in the second. Railways didn’t make things easy for Punjab as Gaganjeet Singh and Bijender Kumar ensured Railways remained in the contest till the third quarter.
Tamil Nadu tested its bench strength and came up trumps over Kerala. With pivot Vineeth Revi Mathew and centre Rikin Pethani not in prime form, youngsters Jeevanantham and Sivabalan took up the responsibility, without buckling under pressure.
Rajasthan deserved every bit of accolades that came its way. Outfoxing Karnataka in every department, Rajasthan kept scoring at regular intervals. Karnataka couldn’t understand the passing pattern of Rajasthan even as Bharajdeep Singh (23) and Vinod (17) made a mess of Karnataka’s full-court press.
Men: TN vs Rajasthan; Uttarakhand vs Punjab.
Women: Indian Railways vs Telangana; Chhattisgarh vs Kerala.
The results (Quarterfinals)
Punjab 101 (Talwinderjit Singh Sahi 27, Rajveer Singh 27, Arshpreet Bhullar 22, Gurwinder Singh 20) bt Indian Railways 83 (Gagandeep Singh 25, Himanshu Sharma 20, Vijender Kumar 13, Palpreet Singh 10).
Tamil Nadu 72 (P. Jeevanantham 17, G. Siva Balan 11) bt Kerala 52 (Alvin Baby 19, Ajeeth Sugunan 10).
Rajasthan 83 (Bharajdeep Singh 23, Vinod Kumar 17, Loon Singh 13, Sharad Dadhich 13, Mod Singh 12) bt Karnataka 70 (Anil Kumar 21, Arvind Arumugam 19, Navin 12).
Uttarakhand 60 (Trideep Rai 20, Amritpal Singh 10) bt Haryana 35 (Pradeep Chouhan 10).
Chhattisgarh 99 (Poonam Chaturvedi 60) bt Delhi 67 (Raspreet Sidhu 27, Sushantika 23, Vinti 12).
Telangana 81 (R. Ramya 34, M. Gayatri 24) bt Tamil Nadu 70 (R. Varshanandini 29, V. Srividhya 11, K. K. Sruthi 11).
Indian Railways 95 (Sruthi Menon 17, Madhu Kumari 13, Anjana Daisy Ekka 12) bt Madhya Pradesh 46 (Nima Doma Bhutia 19, Namrata Huda 17).
Kerala 73 (P.S. Jeena 22, Poojamol 12, P.G. Anjana 11) bt Maharashtra 30 (Sakshi Arora 10).