On August 22, the third and final game of the trip came in the
most difficult conditions the team has had to face so far. We spent
a good part of the day walking around a beautiful national park,
the rest of the day on the bus in between Zadar and Zagreb.
When we showed up to the gym to face KK Sabok, the sweltering
temperatures showed no sign of abating. As Associate A.D. Tom
Rand commented, the Croatian club seemed to be taking a page out
Red Auerbach's playbook, as all the heaters were on full blast in
the gym. Maybe our hosts had done some research on the namesake of
the Judges' home court.
The gymnasium reminded me of two places: the old Hickory High School gym in the movie “Hoosiers” and Progressive Field in Cleveland. It was an intimate court to play hardball on, but when a fan dragged a big drum up into the stands, he started beating throughout the entire contest, much like the guy from the Indians home games.
This team was definitely the most skilled we’ve seen thus far and they jumped out to a quick 18-9 lead in the first 5 minutes, even after a nice looking Ben Bartoldus 3-pointer. The Judges cut the into the lead, though, and at the end of the first it was Croatians 24, Brandeis 23. That may be up for debate, as the young girl working the scoreboard was struggling to keep the score correct.
The Croats came out swinging in the 2nd and opened with a 7-0 run. The Judges clawed their way back and took their first lead after a Bartoldus circus shot in the lane made it Brandeis 32, Sabok 31, with 3:30 left in the half. After more aggressive play on both sides, the halftime tally was Croatians 41, Brandeis 35.
The 3rd quarter was a mix of post play on both sides, including some nice work by junior Alex Stoyle down low. At the end of three quarters, it was Croatia 56, Brandeis 51.
It became clear in the final period that the effects of their heavy travel schedule, combined with the heat, was really getting to the Judges, as the hosts began to take control. Two minutes into the final frame the Croatians made an 8-0 run as the game began to get sloppy. With 3:25 left in the game the Croatians had an 11 point lead, and never looked back. At the final buzzer, it was KK Sabok 74, Brandeis 64: the Judges first international loss under coach Brian Meehan.
The two sides took a group picture at the end of the game, handshakes and smiles were exchanged. Brandeis played hard in all three games and was challenged each time. To compare the opponents on this trip with the foes from five years ago - when the team I was a member of went to Italy - is like night and day. In the summer of 2007, we had two very easy games against a pair of squads who looked more like men’s league soccer players, and one game against a good pro team that we were able to overcome at the end. This year’s Judges had three tough tests, and played hard in all of them, like coach Meehan's Brandeis teams have always done. I am proud of their effort and they should be as well!