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Varsity Report: Men's Basketball Blues and Lions

Basketball Varsity 2020/21 between Oxford and Cambridge played on June 18, 2021

Match report by Michael Hofstetter, Cambridge Blues and CUBbC president

The 2020/21 Varsity game was an unusual and special one in several regards. First and foremost, it was the only competitive game that the two sides would play this year, as most of the season was cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. Both clubs eventually decided that the Varsity match must be played and agreed on a date in June 2021. It was also decided that the match would take place again in Oxford as the CUBbC’s home venue was closed for exams. Meanwhile, Oxford Coach Jamie Smith did some research on the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match, traced back many results from previous years, and found that the first game was played in 1921. This suddenly turned this year’s edition into the 100th anniversary Varsity match.

Going into Varsity, both Cambridge teams looked strong and there was an intrinsic confidence that the club would pull off two wins on Varsity day. For the first time, there was also an M3 game scheduled for freshers, where, due to the lack of sufficiently many players, CUBbC would play the Lions and Romain Bucci, a visiting student from France.

Oxford M2 - Cambridge M2

The first game of the day was that of the Lions, and it turned out to be rather disappointing from Cambridge’s perspective: despite being close for about three quarters with Oxford throughout leading by 5-8 points, the Lions could not stay within reach in the last minutes of Q3, when Oxford scored back to back three pointers. In this short period, as well as throughout Q4, the Cambridge offence relied too much on David “Keen Dave” Quan, did not play team basketball, and as a result made it easy for Oxford to prevent them from scoring. In Q4, Cambridge tried to play the foul game, but never really got close again, which resulted in a well-deserved win for the Oxford team.

Final result: Oxford 71 - Cambridge 59

A small side note: shortly after the game, rumours came up that the arguably best Oxford player Ned Checkets being a visiting student did not meet the eligibility criteria to play in the M2 Varsity game. This was never challenged by Cambridge.

Oxford Blues - Cambridge Blues

The Cambridge losses continued as the day went on: the women lost both games, and also the M3 game went to Oxford despite a strong performance by Romain Bucci and excellent coaching by Francisco Huhn. Hence, it came down to the Blues to save the day for Cambridge. The stakes were high with the Varsity being officially denoted the 100th anniversary edition and an eight-week preparation period being exclusively devoted to just 40 minutes of basketball. So, in hindsight it does not surprise that the Oxford M1 team were up for some playacting and understatement before the game. Like, they would not step on the court until five minutes to tip-off, but move their warm up to a different hall. Eventually, both teams lined up and, at first glance the Oxford team seemed to be less mature and less experienced across all positions compared to Cambridge, which might have given the Cambridge Blues the illusion of an easy win.

The game started and things did not go as anticipated beforehand. Oxford started strong, scored the first buckets, played great team basketball and found their rhythm. Cambridge on the other hand had to fight hard for every basket and did not manage to run their plays. Oxford was cruising to a comfortable double digit lead, while Cambridge was struggling to stay within distance. At least they could rely on their shooting from distance with Nick Kingsley and Vittorio Masina hitting some crucial threes and Elias Bresnick’s energetic drives to the basket. His performance in the Varsity game can not be overstated, as he stepped up, when the confidence and belief in the success started to disappear within the team. In their last possession of Q2, Mike Magee with another three pointer cut the lead down to 7. Score after Q2: Oxford 45 - Cambridge 37.

Cambridge could not bring the momentum to the second half as Oxford extended their lead back to double figures. Their best player Orin Varley caused immense problems to the Cambridge defence, and they were not able to contain him for most parts of the game. With 5 mins to go in Q3, Varley hits a three to put Oxford up by 12 points. A minute later the lead is up to 14 after Oxford scored two free throws. It is again Elias Bresnick who makes the momentum shift back in Cambridge’s favour, when he volleyball-blocks a driving Varley, and thereafter tells his opponent that they “just lost it.”

However, Cambridge was still far from achieving just that, as they still had to overcome a 14 point deficit. Coach Weil took a time out and reminded his team that they had no more time to lose. He instructed his team to switch to zonal defence, a decision that should quickly turn out to pay off. After the game, veteran Mike Magee claimed that he suggested just that for basically the entire first half. Cambridge finally managed to get much needed stops with blocks Magee and Bresnick again, and scored on the other end in person of Vikaas Vaarma, Elias Bresnick and Nick Kingsley. Suddenly the deficit was down at 6 points and the stage was set for a ball game. Score after Q3: Oxford 61 - Cambridge 55.

In Q4 Cambridge came out running and hustling and continued where they left off. After a jumper by Varma and a three from “Money” Mike Magee, Cambridge are trailing by just a single point with eight minutes left in the game. In the next possession they have a chance to take the first lead of the game, but turn the ball over to give Oxford a free lane to the basket. Magee chases down the driving man and goes up for a somewhat clean rejection, but the referee calls him for a foul. Oxford make both and the lead is up at three. On the other end, Vikaas Varma answers with a reverse layup, but Oxford continued to pull away again. With 5 minutes to go the lead is up to 6 points. Kingsley with another three and Riccardo Masina with two free throws make it a one-point game. With 2.07 left in the game Mike Magee goes up for a floater and is fouled. He goes to the line with the chance to put Cambridge up for the first time (probably not even in this game, but across all games played on this day). He sinks the first, he sinks the second. The commentators erupt and want to get a pulse check on Mike, figuring the man has ice in his veins. On the other side, Oxford gets free throws for Cambridge team fouls which puts Varley in the same situation. He ties the game at 69, but misses his second free throw after which Varma gets down with the rebound twisting his knee. One of Cambridge’s best players cannot continue and has to be carried off the court. Vittorio Masina comes on for the final minutes. In the next Cambridge possession, Riccardo Masina drives and kicks the ball to his brother Vittorio who gets a clean look from distance and puts Cambridge up by three. Oxford try to respond with a quick three, but the ball rattles out. They secure the rebound and eventually go to the line to make it a two point game. Then, Cambridge find again Vittorio Masina on the free throw line who spins around his defender and goes up for a layup - Cambridge by 4. Within seconds, Oxford find an open Karl Baddeley in the corner for an open jumper with his toes on the line. With 14 ticks left and two points ahead, Cambridge have the ball and need to run down the clock, but Oxford force a jump ball. In a wild last Oxford possession Kingsley almost gets a steal, before an Oxford player picks up the loose ball with one second left and somehow gets it in the air. Silence in the entire hall as the ball approaches the hoop. The buzzer goes on, while the ball is still in the air. The ball hits the inside of the basket, bounces to the other side and goes out. Cambridge wins Varsity by two points.

Final score: Oxford 72 - Cambridge 74