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Season Review: Guildford Heat

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking back at the 2011/12 BBL season, reviewing each of the 11 teams one-by-one. First up, Guildford Heat.

Final Position: 8th
Season Record: Played – 30 Won – 12 Lost – 18
Points: 24
Play-Offs: Lost to Newcastle Eagles in first round play-offs
Player of the Season: Tayo Ogedengbe

Guildford Heat began their 2011/2012 campaign with an overtime defeat in the BBL Trophy to Worcester Wolves. At full-time, the game was tied at 82-82 after the Heat had fought back late on but fatigue kicked in as Worcester, in front of their home crowd, bagged 11 overtime points to Guildford’s five and took the spoils in the first group game of the BBL trophy; leaving the Heat with an uphill task to qualify.

In their second BBL Trophy group game, Guildford Heat hosted Plymouth Raiders at the Surrey Sports Park and the crowd watched on in horror as they watched the Heat throw away a 52-36 lead to a fall to a second successive defeat. Despite dominating for long periods, a complete lapse in concentration allowed Plymouth back in and the Raiders left with a 95-91 victory.

Guildford starter their BBL Championship with a long trip to Newcastle to face the Eagles and it wasn’t a game Heat fans will keep long in their memory. The Eagles were always ahead and, although Heat resiliently fought back on occasions, Newcastle held on for a comfortable 85-64 win.

It was a case of four from four for Guildford after Sheffield Sharks visited Surrey Sports Park. Unfortunately, that was four defeats from their first four games. An early 7-5 lead was the only time the Heat were in front in this match. Sheffield, the early pace setters in the BBL, were helped along by Great Britain point-guard Nate Reinking as he helped himself to an impressive 35 points to give Sheffield Sharks an 86-75 victory.

Guildford Heat exited the BBL Trophy in the group stage after defeats in both return matches to Worcester Wolves, 82-75, and Plymouth Raiders, 87-83. The Heat could have won all four group matches in the BBL Trophy but as luck would have it, came away with no points as Coach Creon had a job on his hands to turn around a season that had started with six consecutive losses.

Raftopoulos knew his side had not started well: “The start we made was below the expectations of the fans, the players and the club as a whole. I was not happy with the duration of the season but pleased with the end”.

Worcester Wolves were the opponent again for the Heat, this time in the BBL Cup. Guildford failed to get the best of Worcester on two previous occasions this season already and this match was no different. Despite Guildford never being out of the contest and the game being all square at 55-55 going into the final quarter, they could not make their pressure pay as the Wolves dumped the out of the cup with a 88-77 win.

Two league games at home in a row gifted Guildford a great opportunity to pick up their first points of the season, however, that wasn’t to be. First up came Cheshire Jets but, in a game that bore many similarities to the BBL Cup defeat to Worcester, Guildford lost 90 to 84. The following weekend Leicester Riders paid the visit to the Surrey Sports Park and also left with maximum points. Cameron Rundles was the difference as the point-guard hit 33 points, including 7 from 11 three-pointers. Luck had well and truly ran out for Creon Raftopoulos and his team as they still searched for that elusive first victory of the season.

The Heat managed to pick up a win; however, this was only in a mid-season friendly against Division One team LSBU Brixton TopCats. The 91-77 success would do Guildford’s confidence no harm but they knew this form had to be transferred over to their league form.

Guildford face Worcester Wolves for the fourth time in two months and Worcester came out on top again after an up and down match which seen the Heat lead by six points going into the final quarter. With the Sky Sports cameras present, the players produced a match worthy of television coverage as both sets of teams fought tooth and nail to gain all two points. Despite the Heat’s late fightback, Wolves held on 98-93.

Arguably, the most disappointing defeat of the season came after a long trip to Glasgow to face the Glasgow Rocks. Not only did they let an early lead slip, but the whole game was overshadowed by a horrific injury to Mike Copeland. The current Guildford forward and former Glasgow player, Copeland suffered a knee injury which meant he had to be taken to hospital for immediate attention. Although there were two points still left to claim, the thoughts of both sets of fans and players were not far from Mike Copeland and his current condition.

Coach Creon Raftopoulos had seemingly lost all hope: “At one point I didn’t think we would make the play-offs”. Raftopoulos also commented on Copeland’s injury: “It was the story of the season. Whenever we were on a roll something bad happened to us. We were never able to start the same five players in a row because of injuries. Just as the team were starting to gel we lost Mike Copeland and to lose a player of his calibre was a big loss”.

The only tonic for losing key player Copeland for the rest of the season would be Heat’s first win of the season – and the players duly obliged. Relief was the key word for Coach Creon and his boys as they made the trip to Merseyside worthwhile and picked up an 82-76 lead having been in front from the second quarter onwards.

Almost as if by magic, Guildford turned their season around. An 83-73 defeat to Newcastle Eagles was simply a black mark on what was a great run of form. Following the defeat to Newcastle, the Heat managed to win their next three matches. A 99-67 hammering of bottom side Durham Wildcats preceded two tight wins over tough opponents Cheshire Jets and Sheffield Sharks. A superb 92-89 overtime win over Cheshire came just five days before another nail-biting 80-78 victory over Sheffield.

Despite the confidence flowing through Guildford, Plymouth managed to hand out a bit of a battering to the Heat when the trip to face the Raiders was a wasted one as a weak performance led to a 98-68 defeat. It was a seemingly a one-off though as the Heat bounced back with another victory – this time against Milton Keynes Lions who they beat 83-66, legendary captain Mike Martin top scoring for Guildford.

Three losses on the bounce was in store for Guildford next. Glasgow Rocks, Mersey Tigers and Sheffield Sharks all inflicted defeats on the Heat as their season went off the rails again as they began to struggle in their chase for a play-off place.

An important 95-90 win over Milton Keynes Lions came just after another victory over Plymouth Raiders, 95-85. Heat’s rollercoaster season continued as they followed us those two back to back wins with a defeat to bogey team Worcester Wolves followed up by a loss against Leicester Riders.

Guildford earned themselves three massive victories as they pushed on in the table to stake a claim for a play-off place. Wins against Glasgow Rocks (83-81), Mersey Tigers (85-73) and Durham Wildcats (97-59) meant the Heat would enter the business end of the season with a chance of reaching their target of making the play-offs.

Four defeats in five games came at the wrong time for Heat with a win at home to Plymouth Raiders sandwiched in between two double defeats to Cheshire Jets and Worcester Wolves and also Durham Wildcats and Leicester Riders. However, this form was still enough to earn a play-off place as teams around the Heat dropped points also.

Coach Creon’s boys faced table toppers and next week’s play-off opponents Newcastle Eagles and Guildford gave a great account of themselves against the eventual quadruple champions of the BBL. Although Newcastle were under strength to pick up a 100-74 victory was impressive and Guildford finished the league in 8th position.

Guildford’s season was quickly over when Newcastle Eagles dispatched of the Heat on their way to the BBL Championship. A 93-56 defeat left the Heat too much to do in the second leg and despite a hard fought match; Newcastle prevailed after another victory, this time 74-69.

Coach Creon Raftopoulos had these thoughts regarding the season just gone: “The play-offs were the minimal target we had set ourselves. It became tough because of the form of the teams around us but we managed to sneak some important results and at the same time the teams around us were dropping points. I was really pleased to reach the play-offs in the end”.

Raftopoulos added: “Our best player was Tayo Ogedengbe. The statistics would suggest that. The signings of Drew Lasker and Frank Holmes were lucky coincidences because they were free agents but their experience helped us as we started the season with three rookies in Shingles, Coley and Opoku”.

End of Season Verdict:
A rollercoaster of a year for Guildford Heat that ended up in similar fashion. A late push for the play-off paid off as they made it but, after early exits from both the BBL Trophy and BBL Cup, their only hope of silverware was ended quickly as eventual champions Newcastle Eagles brushed them aside in the first round of the play-offs. There is much to improve on for Creon Raftopoulos and his team for next season and they will do well to keep hold of the spine of the team and build a new one around them.

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