Valencia Basket celebrated its host role in the WE'RE BACK PRESEASON TOUR by racking up a no-doubt-about-it 66-77 victory over LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in the tournament championship game on Wednesday. Despite being pushed by ASVEL the whole way, Valencia hardly bent and never broke as it rolled to the two-day title without ever giving up a lead. Bojan Dubljevic led the winners with 14 points and Mike Tobey added 13, while Joan Sastre was instrumental with 11 points. For ASVEL, Antoine Diot, William Howard and Norris Cole each scored 11 points, while Davidy Lighty added 10.
Sastre and Dubljevic challenged the 2.18-meter Moustapha Fall as Valencia went ahead 2-8, but Diot and David Lighty answered with the game's first three-pointers. Sastre and Dubljevic struck anew and Tobey entered to nail a triple as Valencia surged in front 10-20. Tobey stayed on fire, hitting another three, plus free throws and a dunk to make it 15-29 after 10 minutes. Howard dunked twice as Kevarrius Hayes took over inside during a 7-0 ASVEL run to open the second quarter. Martin Hermannsson steadied the hosts, pushing the difference up to 24-36. Layups by Jaime Pradilla and Nikola Kalinic soon made it 27-42, but Diot's 5 points in a row helped ASVEL lower the difference to 36-46 at the half. Howard opened the second half with a triple but Sastre and Dubljevic combined on the next 6 points to make it 39-52. Valencia would go up by a high of 14 at 46-60, but Cole scored the third quarter's last 5 points for a 50-60 scoreboard with 10 minutes left. Diot, Cole and Fall cut the difference to single digits, 57-65, Fall added a three-play over Tobey and suddenly it was 60-65, as close as ASVEL had come in a long time. Guillem Vives answered with a clutch triple for the Valencia while Louis Labeyrie followed with a deep two and Kalinic with a basket to restore a 62-72 difference and end ASVEL's last true threat.
Valencia's center duo of Bojan Dubljevic and Mike Tobey will offer a puzzle to EuroLeague opponents. Together, they hit more three-pointers (42 total) than any center duo in the league last season, while they are just as comfortable crashing inside for dunks. In this tournament, they combined for 32 points in the first game and 27 in the final, hitting 7 triples over the two games, proving they are well on their way to doing even better from deep than last season.
Valencia's French force
There were a lot rebounders on the court, but the one who stood tallest was Valencia's resident Frenchman, forward Louis Labeyrie. He did not shoot for most of the game, but Labeyrie's 8 rebounds led both teams and several came at key moments in the second half when ASVEL was closer to turning things around. As with his rebounds, he ended up scoring all 5 of his points in the final 4 minutes when ASVEL was still threatening. Labeyrie would have had plenty of battles with ASVEL over seven seasons in the French League before Valencia brought the defensive specialist across the border two years ago.
Depth to spare
Even after winning by almost 20 points the night before, ASVEL showed it had enough depth to bring out three players on Wednesday who hadn't played in the semifinal. Shot-blocker Ismael Bako and sharpshooter Rihards Lomazs both debuted in the EuroLeague last season, so the true newcomer was William Howard, who sparked ASVEL with a couple of dunks in the first half and an early triple in the second. And even though he played, without scoring, the night before, EuroLeague rookie Kevarrius Hayes also impressed with his 2 blocks in less than 7 minutes of the first half. ASVEL would seem to have the horses to call on over a long EuroLeague season. Now it's a question of them getting experience. Valencia's newest face was teenage big man Jaime Pradilla, who fit right in with 4 quick points around the basket soon after hitting the floor.
Lucky fans, lucky players
You could almost count them in the lower bowl of La Fonteta, almost 400 supporters of Valencia sitting far apart from each other and wearing masks. Domestic restrictions on fan capacity would not allow more people, of course, but they didn't let their lack of numbers or proximity deter them. Every time one of their players made a shot or was substituted, they broke into applause, appreciative of the chance to be there. Just as appreciative as the players were to have them. Of course, it ended well for both, with a trophy at midcourt and the late 2020 equivalent of a standing ovation.
Remember, this was not just a chance to check out two ambitious EuroLeague challengers as they prep for the season to come. These same two teams will be at it again on the same floor, La Fonteta in Valencia, to open the EuroLeague season on Thursday, October 1. This was the appetizer, but the big dish is about to be served.
Jaume Ponsarnau, head coach
"I think some statistics that define why we are satisfied with this game include turnovers. For us, to have just 11 is a good stat against this tough team. And the rebounds, to have 10 more rebounds in the first quarter is a very good stat against that team, which is very physical. We showed that we can improve a lot of details, we know that. We got through some bad moments, like a couple of plays in a row that didn't work, by the players making sure on the third play to have confidence and change that negative trend. Also on defense, we knew what we wanted to do and we did it. Today we didn't scout ASVEL much, but still we played good defense, and this is a good sign for our team."
Joan Sastre, forward
"I think we did a pretty solid game during the 40 minutes against strong and physical team like ASVEL. I think we competed well and played really good basketball in this last game of the preseason. We're happy with our victory and looking forward to playing the regular season."
LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne
T.J. Parker, head coach
"We faced a strong Valencia team that is not typical, having two 'five' men who can shoot. Overall it's not an easy place to play. We're coming back in two weeks. They built a better team than last years, so I think they are going to be one of the top teams. Our only sad point is the way we started this and two or three other games in the first quarter hurt us. We even won the second quarter. That's one of the details we have to be sure not to give to anybody. We need to be focused for 40 minutes."
David Lighty, forward
"I think it was a good test. It was our last preseason game against a good Valencia team that has been together for some years now and added some good pieces. We come back here in two weeks to play the real season, and I'd say we saw some things we can work on the to get better before that happens, before the real games start."