National C'ships: Uttarakhand, Kerala emerge champions

Amritpal Singh starred in Uttarakhand's 68-60 win in the final over Tamil Nadu for its third Senior National Basketball Championship title. In the women's section, Kerala bagged its second title after 32 years, defeating Telangana in the final.

Uttarakhand team with the National Championship trophy.   -  S.S. Kumar

It was only fitting that the two best teams went on to win the 67th Senior National basketball championships here on Saturday. Uttarakhand and Kerala translated their wonderful form from the group stages to knockouts, to dish out a clinical performance in the summit clash.

Uttarakhand tamed a fighting Tamil Nadu (TN) 68-60 in the men’s final, for its third crown while Kerala bagged its second title after 32 years, with a 68-55 victory over Telangana.

Though it was a complete team effort from Uttarakhand, it would be unwise not to mention the display of Amritpal Singh. The 26-year-old, who was relatively quiet till the third quarter, broke free in the fourth. Amritpal scored 17 points out of his 34 points in the second half that really tilted the scales in Uttarakhand’s favour.

Trailing 23-9 in the first quarter, TN had its best moments in the second quarter with Jeevanantham and Muinbek playing a major role. Uttarakhand could collect just five points; TN gathered 15.

The turning point from TN’s point of view was the exit of Jeevanantham. The 22-year-old, hailing from Dindigul, was outstanding in shooting and defensive rebounds; mostly in controlling a marauding Amritpal. But once he was sent out after his quota of five fouls in the third quarter, Uttarakhand raced ahead without any major trouble.

“He (Amritpal) was unstoppable. Once he got his rhythm, it was difficult to stop him,” said Aezaz Ahmed, TN’s head coach.

Describing the title-triumph as great, Amit Kumar Singh, head coach of Uttarakhand, said, “We play together for major part of the season as the majority of us work in ONGC. The key [today] for us was not just Amritpal, but Murali Krishna and Yadwinder [Singh] in defence.”

Sweet victory

For Kerala, the triumph over Telangana was sweeter as it had come after a long wait - its last win was in Cuttack in 1984-85 - and after having played in six finals including last year.

Kerala started well like it has always done in the tournament. But steadily, Telangana raced ahead with wonderful passing and shooting. Aishwarya Natraj and R. Ramya were the chief architects in Telangana taking a five-point lead (19-14) in the first quarter.

There wasn’t much of a change in the second quarter, with Telangana calling the shots. Kerala, though, was getting its act together as its players showed more alacrity and speed, and in rebounds, it was a tad better. It was Anjana who reduced the margin considerably in that phase for Kerala with her precise shooting.

The third quarter witnessed a definite shift in momentum as Kerala’s fitter team scored more baskets than its opponent. As Stephen Antony, the head coach of Kerala observed: “This is a big win for Kerala. Both of us (Telangana and us) played a tough semifinal. The difference was that our girls had better fitness. And substituting Nimmi [George] with Roja Mol in the third quarter was one of the turning points in the game as she got a lot of points through drive-ins. And of course Jeena, the current India player, used her experience to good use.”

The results

Men:

Final: Uttarakhand 68 (Amritpal Singh 34) bt Tamil Nadu 60 (Jeevanantham 12, Rikin Pethani 10, Muinbek 10); Third place match: Punjab 88 (Talwinderjt Singh Sahi 21, Rajveer Singh 18, Gurvinder Singh Gill 16, Arshpreet Singh Bhullar 14) bt Rajasthan 70 (Vinod Kumar 22, Sharad Dadhich 18, Mohamad 13).

Women:

Final: Kerala 68 (Jeena 20, Roja Mol 10, Anjana 10) bt Telangana 55 (Ramya 15, Suganya 12); Third place match: Indian Railways 84 (P.U. Navaneetha 21, Sruthi Menon 16, Madhu Kumar 15, Sitamani Tudu 11) bt Chhattisgarh 77 (Poonam Chaturvedi 31, Sangeeta Kaur 13).