NEWCASTLE Eagles are top of the BBL Championship, never having lost to Durham Wildcats.
Local hostilities are renewed at Newton Aycliffe Leisure Centre tomorrow (tip-off 4pm), but the lowly Wildcats insist they have “nothing to fear”.
For while Fabulous Flournoy’s men have recovered from the stunning setback of defeat to Leicester Riders in last month’s BBL Cup final in Birmingham by dispensing of Sheffield Sharks and Mersey Tigers with notable ease, their Durham rivals have enjoyed something of a run of good form themselves.
Three wins in four prior to last night’s trip to Sheffield have lifted the Wildcats to seventh in the table, raising hope of reaching the end-of-season play-offs.
They go into tomorrow’s derby with guard Keith Page urging confidence and refusing to be intimidated.
He said: “The Eagles are top of the league and going well but if we can keep up our level of performance we have nothing to fear.
“We match up quite well against them, but Durham have never beaten them so it’s a bit strange talking about beating them.
“However, we have to have confidence and not be intimidated.
“I hope we have a decent crowd, no one likes coming to our place.
“We’ve won four of our last six, so we’re making strides.”
As such, Eagles player-coach Flournoy has warned against complacency.
He said: “Durham are coming off their best weekend of the season and are playing excellent basketball.
“Maintaining defensive concentration is critical against Durham and it is something we will be working on.”
Flournoy missed last week’s comfortable home win over the bottom-placed Tigers but assistant coach Dave Forrester was delighted by his side’s performance.
He said of the 121-58 victory: “Our starting five came out and played hard against Mersey at the beginning of the first and third quarters.
“We did have a few defensive lapses later on in the respective halves but overall I was happy we were all in the right mind-set for the game.”
The Eagles remain overwhelming favourites tomorrow too, having beaten the Durham franchise in both the BBL Championship and Trophy already this season.
However, Wildcats captain Ralph Bucci is keen to push his more illustrious neighbours all the way – and confident of doing so.
He said: “The visit of Newcastle is always a date you look forward to as a player.
“The Eagles have given us tough challenges in the last 18 months, but I’m hoping we can continue our good form and match them on Sunday.”