The British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) system is brilliant but it can prove a struggle for even the most hardened of teams. The weekly fixtures, often accompanied by local weekend competitions, are a strain, especially when injuries start to mount up during the semester. Therefore you can only imagine the issues faced by a team completely new to BUCS, like the St Andrews Men’s Basketball 2nd team, who gained admission at the start of this season.
That achievement is even more impressive considering the Basketball club only began fielding a second outfit halfway through last year. That team immediately gelled, winning the Fife and Tayside Cup and playing several friendlies. A perfect record in those fixtures meant that the logical step-up was BUCS, where they hoped to find more balanced and skilled opposition.
Obviously the roster required for occasional fixtures last season wasn’t sufficient to be competitive in the BUCS Scottish 4A division. That meant some intense try-outs at the start of the year which have proved very beneficial to the team. Postgrad student Ben Catchpole, who has acted as de facto organiser for the team this season, explained that the 2s were left without any players capable of playing power forward or centre following the try-outs. This meant that several players who initially didn’t get selected during the tryouts were invited back for training. The benefit was two-fold, as it increased the groups at their weekly training sessions and also gave them a bigger group of players to pick from when the season began.
As with last season, they still only have one training session a week, but they now share a coach with the 1st team. Ross Bain, the men’s coach, has a wealth of experience, and the 2nd team have been able to benefit from that during the season so far.
They began the season with an excellent 70-44 away win against Dundee’s 3rd team before suffering their first defeat in their second game of the season, going down narrowly to Edinburgh’s 3rd team 66-57. Throughout both of those games and their cup defeat to Heriot-Watt the undoubted star of the team was point guard Andrew Moolenaar. The American had been their top point scorer in all three games and was central to all that the team did. The team’s only issue is that Moolenaar is a JSA from Purdue University, meaning that come the resumption of the BUCS campaign in February, they will be without their star player.
However, Mr Catchpole was quite enthusiastic about the side’s prospects without Moolenaar.
He said: ‘Nevertheless, other players in the team have been progressing and stepping up their performances recently, especially those who have never played competitive or structured basketball before. Despite the loss I’m still confident we’ll be able to put up good numbers as I know the rest of the team will be keen to take the open position and prove their ability on the court’.
St Andrews still had the Moolenaar’s services for their home fixture against Aberdeen 2s on Wednesday 16 November. Aberdeen had also split their first two fixtures of the season, sitting just one place ahead of St Andrews in the table by virtue of point difference.
St Andrews opened the scoring in the first quarter but that was followed by several missed shots to open the quarter which allowed Aberdeen to move five points clear, leading 13-8. However, St Andrews showed some resilience before the end of the quarter, going on a 7-2 run to ensure that when the klaxon when the scores were tied at 15-15.
Benches are often key in basketball and this was apparent in this game as Aberdeen’s bench allowed them to lead at the end of the first half 31-26. St Andrews had the better starting five but when the benches came into play it was Aberdeen who were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over. Saints had gone six clear at the start of the quarter but Aberdeen continued to make shots whilst keeping St Andrews at bay, giving them the lead.
Another of Aberdeen’s advantages in the game was their dominance of the boards. Time and again they beat St Andrews to the rebounds which gave them a lot of second chance points whilst restricting St Andrews to single opportunities and therefore long runs without scoring.
The lead was still five points at the end of the third quarter as both sides seemed a little lethargic following the half-time break. Only 20 points were scored in the quarter where Aberdeen and St Andrews both showed a reluctance to shoot. The points were evenly split, meaning Aberdeen led 41-36 with ten minutes to go.
Moolenaar had been fantastic throughout the game and started to level the scores within a minute of the final quarter starting. A beautiful fading three brought St Andrews within two before he held his nerve to sink two free throws. That start was then followed by a lull in the game with both sides managing just one basket each in the next four minutes. Those baskets were key though as St Andrews nailed a three to Aberdeen’s lay-up, which meant St Andrews led for the first time since the second quarter with five minutes to go.
Aberdeen were the next to score but Moolenaar replied immediately with his fourth three to make the score 47-45. Aberdeen then nailed two consecutive fast break scores to move ahead once again, provoking a timeout from St Andrews with just over two minutes remaining.
The timeout didn’t have the desired effect though, as Aberdeen edged the final two minutes 5-3, despite a ridiculous three from the St Andrews centre Trevor Hickman, ensuring the score at the end was 54-50 in favour of the visitors.
The closeness of the scores is a fair reflection of a game that could easily have gone either way. St Andrews clearly have areas in which they can improve, but things are certainly looking bright for one of St Andrews newest BUCS representative.