Norway’s NBA provides April “Madness”
Nothing but nett
The Norwegian American
Hidden behind all the winter sports that grab the Norwegian headlines is Norway NBA, professional men’s and women’s basketball leagues. Norges Basketball Forbund (Norwegian Basketball Association), which oversees the sport, including the Basketball Ligaen Norge (BLNO) leagues.
The forbund was established in 1965 to formalize the sport in Norway and develop a representative national team. Norway was the last Nordic country to join the international governing body, FIBA. The national team debuted in the Polar Cup in Copenhagen in 1966, where the closest it came to victory was a 23-point loss to Denmark, and the worst loss was by 70 points to Finland.
The women debuted Feb. 10-11, 1968, in Denmark.
The first season for BLNO men was 2000-01 and women, 2003-04. There are 10 teams in the men’s league: Kongsberg Miners, Gimle Bergen, Bærum, Frøya, Fyllingen, Tromsø Storm, Ammerud, Centrum Tigers, Nidaros Jets, and Asker Aliens. They played a 27-game schedule. Eight teams made the playoffs. Each round was a best-of-three series.
There are eight teams in the women’s loop: Ullern Oslo, Gimle Pride Bergen, Ulriken Eagles Bergen, Asker Aliens, Sandvika, Høybråten Oslo, Bergen Elite, and Tromsø Storm Ungdom. They played a 21-game schedule with all eight teams qualifying for the playoffs, which were single elimination.
No more than two Americans per team can be on the floor at a time. A minimum of two Norwegians must always be playing.
The women’s playoffs ended April 7, men’s April 11. For tension and excitement, they came close to matching NCAA March Madness. Gimle coach Audun Eskeland attempted to win the men’s and women’s championships.
The Sandvika women came so close to pulling off the Cinderella story and dancing off with the trophy. Fifth in the regular season, they upset fourth-place Asker 56-51. Former Arizona State forward Nanna Sand had nine points, 13 rebounds, and five assists, while former University of California Santa Barbara guard Makala Roper scored a team-high 14 points.
In the semifinals, they stunned first-place Ullern 58-47 with another good defensive effort. Roper led the way with 16 points and eight assists; Severine Uggen chipped in 12 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
Second-place Gimle stormed its way to the final, routing seventh-place Bergen 71-51 and third-place Ulriken 83-59. Gimle forced 29 Bergen turnovers and on offense were led by guard Sigrid Hardie with 22 points. Against Ulriken, Gimle connected on 15 three-pointers.
In the championship game, Sandvika turned what seemed an easy rout into a 75-74 defeat. They led 63-39 after three quarters, by eight with a minute left. They fell under a 36-point fourth-quarter deluge by Gimle. Finals MVP Hardie scored the game-winning basket with 3.5 seconds left. Hardie and Maren Mildestvedt each hit three treys in the fourth quarter. Gimle won its 11th title.
“It’s the wildest turnaround I’ve seen in basketball,” said Eskeland on the NBF website. “I switched between having faith and thinking that ‘no, I can’t believe anymore.’ But when we came down to less than 10 and Sandvika seemed to be affected, I understood that we had the chance. Sigrid, and especially Maren, took over.”
“My god, this is just crazy,” said Hardie. “We just had to work and not stop playing. I really think many on the team had almost given up, but at the same time we had to think that we were going to play 40 minutes and never give up.”
Eskeland wasn’t so lucky in the men’s championships: first-place Kongsberg won its second straight title, winning the third game 72-68 in overtime. Second-place Gimle had swept seventh-place Ammerud and third-place Bærum, while the Miners swept eighth-place Centrum and fourth-place Frøya.
Gimle took Game 1 on Kongsberg’s court, 86-83. Kongsberg rallied from a 54-41 halftime deficit to pull within 70-68 after three quarters. A 15-7 run gave Gimle an 85-75 lead. Milovan Savic had 22 points, Tony Tolovae 20 for the winners, while Northwest Missouri State grad Chris-Ebou Ndow had 30 for the Miners.
Kongsberg won Game 2 at Gimle, 81-76. The Miners had a double-digit lead through most of the game, but Gimle cut the lead to 69-65 in the fourth. Former Tennessee star Robert Hubbs III and Ndow hit three-pointers to build Kongsberg’s lead. Eivind Lamo paced Gimle with 17, Sigurd Lorange—who hopes to attend Valparaiso University—and Savic added 16.
In the finale, Gimle entered the fourth quarter with a 52-46 lead. Two baskets by Lorange increased the lead to 57-47 with seven minutes left. MVP Hubbs scored six points in a 10-0 run that tied the game at 57. He gave Kongsberg a 65-63 lead with 15 seconds left, but Savic tied it with 3.9 seconds left. With a depleted lineup, Gimle couldn’t keep up with the Miners in overtime.
“It feels good!” said Miners coach Lars Gunnar Sønsteby, who coached Ullern women to the championship in 2014, but lost with Bærum men in 2015, and with Asker men in 2018. “We and Gimle have pushed each other throughout the season and won three games each now. It has been steady in all six games. But ultimately it was crucial for us to have as good individualists as Hubbs and Chris. Hubbs was just enormous today.”
“We kept calm when we were 10 points down, got Gimle in foul trouble and managed to land it,” said Hubbs. “We’ve had our ups and downs in the league, but it’s great to get a championship.”
This article originally appeared in the May 17, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.