Essex Leopards aim for more National Cup glory

Echo: Robert Youngblood - looking forward to Sunday's semi-final clash against Reading Rockets Robert Youngblood - looking forward to Sunday's semi-final clash against Reading Rockets

ESSEX Leopards face their biggest game of the season on Sunday when Reading Rockets visit the Brentwood Centre in the National Cup semi-final.

The Big Cats are expecting a large crowd as they look to progress to the final of the competition they won in 2006 and 2012.

And player-coach Robert Youngblood is confident of seeing off the Rockets.

“They have a good team but they were hurt by the injury to Gabriel Diaz” he said.

“He was their best player when I scouted them, and I think that’s probably upset their chemistry so they’re trying to find their way again.

“We need to pay special attention to their point guard, Josh Wilcher because he did really well against us last time while Dan Carter is a dangerous inside guy and we have to stop him.”

The sides have already met in the Trophy group stage this season, with the Leopards winning 86-80 in a game that was effectively a dead rubber for both teams.

Rockets won Trophy Group A, with that loss being their only blemish in the games and they have now started the league season with four wins in six games.

Leopards saw their unbeaten league record come to an end with a 81-73 overtime defeat at Manchester Magic on Saturday before bouncing back to end Hemel Storm’s perfect record with a 76-58 victory at Southend on Sunday.

And Youngblood was quietly satisfied with the team’s weekend work.

“We got a loss up at Manchester, but I thought we still played well as a team,” said Youngblood.

“We just didn’t hit our shots and we were outrebounded for the first time this season. You can’t win a game like that and in the end we just ran out of gas.

“I thought it was a great team performance against Hemel. I shortened the rotation to seven guys, and I thought that made us better as a team.

“But it was big to have Carl [Josey] back, he’s our captain and the best defender on the team, and we really missed him in Manchester.

“Now we want to be at our best on Sunday and get through to the final.”

Sunday’s match against the Rockets tips off at 2pm.

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