In the last years when contemplating about the Schwaben club ratiopharm Ulm, one usually had the big all American smile of Mike Taylor in their thoughts, Coleman Collins being the basketball version of GQ, Robin Benzing being able to fine tune his game for two seasons there like a rookie race horse or Dru Joyce and Romeo Travis having to dig out Lebron James antidotes from their times at St Marys high school in Ohio. However times have changed as these people are all gone and usually around this time at the beginning of April, ratiopharm Ulm was usually sleep walking somewhere in the middle of the standings starting to book their flights back home and breaking in a few chic Ulm cafe´s. However this season ratiopharm Ulm have been having a Cinderella type season being a force in the Beko BBL and fighting to keep their second place standing. The Eric Chadfield buzzer beater may be five and half years old, but ratiopharm Ulm met a very focused Fraport Skyliners who were as ready as Jimmy Mckinney always is with his Mizzou Tiger scowl as they were able to dismantle the club of Thorsten Leibenath 77-64. Besides the big win players were able to reflect after the win the amazing transformation that ratiopharm Ulm has undergone in the last year. Jacob Burtschi who played like a fighting lion was all smiles after the game and was just waiting for his dinner reward as this Lion had once again played to the limit helping any which way he could on the court. “Nobody expected this team to be in second place at this time. They have added great players and each guy knows his role and they are always ready to play”, stressed ex Phoenix Hagen forward Jacob Burtschi. Dane Watts always looks like he could grace the cover of GQ has seen the transformation this season from day one. “The success has to do with a different philosophy and that defense first has been instilled. We play team defense, work together well and just have good character guys on the team”, expressed ex Walter Tiger Tuebingen forward Dane Watts. Skyliner captain Marius Nolte didn´t as he was still nursing an injury, but had only the utmost respect for ratiopharm Ulm. “I always like looking back on the games against Ulm especially the hard fought battles in the Kuhberg gym. The secret is that each player knows his role and coach Leibenath has done a fine job putting his signature on the style of play. He really has done a great job forming this team”, expressed Skyliner captain Marius Nolte.
With only six games to play, the Fraport Skyliners were in desperate need to continue their winning streak in order to keep their hopes alive for a playoff berth and showed from the start that the five day training camp in Mallorca, Spain would play dividends as they almost played a complete game. “We had fun in the sun in Mallorca, but it was a good time to refocus and get ready for this run for the playoffs. We made a first step with this big win. We controlled the game for the most part. We let them cut it down to eight points in the fourth quarter, but we then stepped it up hitting some big three pointers and then run out the clock”, stressed Jacob Burtschi. Even before the big win against ratiopharm Ulm, the Fraport Skyliners displayed toughness winning in Artland and the added training camp in Mallorca was probably used more for the team to come together a bit more on and off the court. “There really wasn´t any secret. We didn´t just sit in the sun, but practiced hard, were focused and did team building things and that showed on the court today”, stressed Texas native Devin Gibson. For Ratiopharm Ulm, they were looking to rebound after their close three point loss to Bamberg in the cup semi final, but their six game winning streak was snapped as they were never able to find a consistent offensive rhythm against the Fraport Skyliners. “Frankfurt played very physical from the start. We weren´t mentally in the game in the first half. We gambled a lot with zone, but it didn´t work in our favor. In the fourth quarter, Frankfurt hurt us with their shooting and Tommy Mason Griffin was missed today”, stressed ratiopharm Ulm head coach Thorsten Leibenath.
Before a Beko BBL game, it is always entertaining to see and observe how the players prepare or even when they are chatting it up with their opponents. Per Guenther who had a big game was very calm and focused before the game and first had a long conversation with Skyliner reserve player Fabian Franke. Both were sitting on chairs at mid court and they looked more like content fans getting ready for a game and waiting for the popcorn to arrive then two guys about to battle. After Franke had had his chat dose, it was time for German national player Tim Ohlbrecht to take a seat next to Guenther as they might had been talking about the upcoming summer in the German national team. Two ex Walter Tiger Tuebingen players Johannes Herber and Dane Watts might have been chatting about beards and the best places to surf. Finally the game started as 4,870 were in the arena as the Fraport Skyliners didn´t take long going on a massive 14-3 run. The Fraport Skyliners found their rhythm on offense rapidly and played with a high intensity. Ohlbrecht hit on a mini hook shot, Quantez Robertson with a three pointer from downtown, Ohlbrecht with a dunk off the pick and roll, Burtschi caught a Tez and hit with a fade away jumper, Thompson made a three pointer and Super Tez stole the ball at center court from Isaiah Swann sprinting in for a dunk. Ratiopharm Ulm weren´t really shocked as they had seen film of Frankfurt and knew what they were capable of, but morever just seemed angry. The Frankfurt defense wasn´t allowing ratiopharm Ulm to get into their comfort zone playing aggressive defense and forcing Ulm to difficult shots and many turnovers. In the last few minutes, ratiopharm Ulm was able to find their rhythm closing out the first quarter with a 10-7 run to trail 19-13. Ulm got two big three pointers from Steve Esterkamp and Isaiah Swann while the Fraport Skyliners got a Thompson three pointer and Jermario Davidson mid range jumper. Ex BG Goettingen guard Rocky Trice hit a fade away at the of the first quarter. “ratiopharm Ulm started with a one-three-one zone which didn´t work. Frankfurt was playing a very good inside o game and weren´´t allowing easy points. Frankfurt was doing a good job on John Bryant forcing turnovers on their pressure”, stated Fraport Skyliner PRO B player Jan Novak.
In the second quarter, ratiopharm Ulm kept fighting to come back exerting extra energy, but the Fraport Skyliners quickly showed that they always had answer when the opponent was getting to close by hitting the clutch shots. Ratiopharm Ulm got a quick burst of energy at the start going on 1 6-2 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 21-19. German national player Guenther who is known for his penetration attacks scored inside while ex Creighton forward Dane Watts scored on a hook shot after getting his blocked ball back and scoring inside as he waited for Davidson to commit jumping up. A quick 5-0 run by Johannes Herber was able to partially hinder the Ulm start as he hit from downtown and then got out behind the transition defense retrieving a perfect feed from Devin Gibson as Frankfurt led 26-19. However then it was Per Guenther again scoring consecutive baskets gliding past usual sharp defender Devin Gibson for two points and then nailing a catch and pop jumper as ratiopharm Ulm trailed only 26-24. The 5-0 runs continued as now it was Jacob Burtschi that broke the back of ratiopharm Ulm as he hit a three pointer over Keaton Nankivil and then some how barreled over John Bryant for a bucket as Frankfurt led 31-24. ratiopharm Ulm continued to fight taking advantage of some costly Frankfurt turnovers going on a 5-0 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 33-27 as Bryant hit a step back fade away jumper which looked like a bigger version of Dirk Nowitzki was on the court and Watts made a runner over Burtschi. Frankfurt then broke the zone with crisp ball movement as Burtschi connected from outside and Per Guenther punished Frankfurt with his quickness going for a lay up as Frankfurt was too lax in coming back as Frankfurt still led 36-29. Frankfurt was never able to get past a 10 point lead as after Thompson hit for a floater, Bryant closed out the second quarter with a lay in and tip in as ratiopharm Ulm trailed only 38-33. “Frankfurt missed a few open shots, but still had a lot of support from many players. Burtschi really stepped up in the quarter and Guenther was doing his best to keep Ulm in the game”, added Jan Novak. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 52% from the field and 40% from the three point line while ratiopharm Ulm was shooting 50% from the field and 38% from the three point line. Ratiopharm Ulm had the 16-13 rebound edge, but had 11 turnovers while Frankfurt had only seven turnovers.
The Fraport Skyliners came out of the half time talk with Muli Katzurin gunning going on a 12-3 run to lead 50-36. Thompson showed the best example of unlimited self confidence as he hurriedly hit a three pointer. The kind of shot where Katzurin may have scolded him if he hadn´t hit the shot. Frankfurt then showed their best ball movement of the afternoon in ala Bamberg manner as Jimmy Mckinney who had been quiet in the first half dropped a three pointer and then scored from the corner. Frankfurt continued moving the ball as if there was no tomorrow as now it was time for Burtschi to show his shooting talent as he connected. Ratiopharm Ulm then found some daylight going on a 6-0 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 50-42 as Bryant scored inside with his left hand and Rocky Trice scored two mid distance jumpers from almost the same spot on the floor. Ratiopharm Ulm seemed like they were winning some momentum back, but then got hit for three buckets as Frankfurt closed out the game with a 8-0 run to lead 58-42 after 30 minutes. Thompson was found open on the wing as he nailed a mid distance jumper, Davidson scored inside and Herber swished a three pointer from the corner. “Our defense was key in the third quarter. We got off running scoring on the fast break. We do a good job scoring off good defense”, stressed Skyliner guard Devin Gibson. The Fraport Skyliners were shooting 51% from the field and 50% from the parking lot while ratiopharm Ulm was shooting 44% from the field and 33% from the parking lot. Frankfurt had the rebound edge 24-23 and only nine turnovers while ratiopharm Ulm had 14 turnovers.
Jacob Burtschi may be a Skyliner fighting lion, but ratiopharm Ulm also have their own fighting lions and it was apparent that they wouldn´t back down like a helpless baby lion left astray by its mother, but come out with a big roar like the king of the jungle and claw their way back into the game and did with a timely 8-0 run to cut the Frankfurt lead to 58-50. Bryant scored with one of his typical lay ins inside and Swann nailed a bomb from downtown and scored on free throws. “Defensive errors hurt us and Ulm caught us not having fluency on offense”, stressed Devin Gibson. However instead of backing down now, it seemed like the Fraport Skyliners were able to shift a gear higher as they put on a shooting clinic for the fans. Mckinney then nailed a wild three pointer with two seconds on the shot clockas he did a slick cross over on Sebastian Betz shooting over him which was met by another Swann three pointer as Frankfurt still led 60-53. However a back breaking 9-3 by the Fraport Skyliners demoralized ratiopharm Ulm as Frankfurt led 69-56 in the crunch time. Frankfurt got three point gems from Thompson, Mckinney and Robertson. “We tried to mix it up with zone but the yhad great ball movement and they made their shots”, stressed John Bryant. After a Mckinney runner, ratiopharm Ulm unleashed one last bubble of energy going on an important 5-0 run as Dane Watts hit a three pointer and Swann scored inside cutting the Frankfurt lead to 71-62 with less than two minutes to play. A few more free throws at the end and a crushing Super Tez Robertson dunk closed out a huge 77-64 win by the Fraport Skyliners. Their energy and physicality was the difference today. A very good team outplayed us today”, explained John Bryant. “ratiopharm Ulm is a good team and there is a reason that they are in second place. The went on a run, but we did good job hitting our three pointers against the zone and we then ran out the clock”, added Jacob Burtschi.
The Fraport Skyliners were led by Michale Thompson with 16 points(4/4 three pointers). Jacob Burtschi produced 15 points, seven rebounds and two assists and was flattered by the compliment Alba Berlin head coach Gordon Herbert gave him for being a player he could always use on his team and that he is a fighting pig who does all the dirty work. “ That is a nice compliment from him. There maybe a lot more athletic players in this league, but I will never let another player out hustle me”, stressed Jacob Burtschi. Jimmy Mckinney added 13 points and four assists. Quantez Robertson added 11 points, three rebounds and three assists. Ratiopharm Ulm was led by isaiah Swann with 17 points. John Bryant contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds. Dane Watts added 12 points and Per Guenther chipped in with 10 points and four assists. Ratiopharm Ulm didn´t shoot all that bad with 42% from the field and 41% from outside, but the Fraport Skyliners shot out the lights when they needed to finishing with 49% from the field and 50% from outside. “You have to give the Frankfurt offense credit. Every guy seemed to step it up and whoever was next in line knocked down the shot”, stressed Dane Watts. “Our ball movement was very good and we did good job finding open man against their zone”, stressed Devin Gibson. Since the start of December 2011, the Fraport Skyliners started to step up their defense and in the last five games have given up only 65 points per game. So often opponents don´t even give the Skyliner defense the deserved credit saying the lack of production was due to missed shots. “No team really will give the other team credit, but moreover reflecting more on their team inability to shoot well. But we pressure well forcing the opponent to take deep shots. The most important thing is that we know that we played good defense”, warned Jacob Burtschi. Some players do realize that its good defense that beats them. “It is tough to play against the physical Frankfurt defense. They bump the cutting players and its just hard to get a rhythm”, added John Bryant. Even though both teams are in the stretch run of the season, the most important thing on their basketball agenda tonight will be the 2012 NCAA final. It didn´t really matter which player you asked, but the same team was on every ones mind winning the title. “ Kentucky will beat Kansas. Coming from Missouri, it has to be like that”, smiled Dane Watts. “Kentucky will win, I played in their conference”, joked Quantez Robertson. “i want Kansas to win, but Kentucky is too strong”, warned Jacob Burtschi. The Fraport Skyliners next travel to the EWE Baskets Oldenburg on April 7th