UTSUNOMIYA (Japan) - Vienna (AUT) started the FIBA 3x3 World Tour 2023 strongly with a pair of impressive victories to steal the show on Day One at the Utsunomiya Opener on April 29.
The 12th season of the World Tour kicked-off in style and teams have further incentive with the top two in Utsunomiya to win tickets to the first-ever Marseille Masters on June 30-July 1.
Last year's World Tour runners-up Vienna made the perfect start with Pool D wins over Rosedale Swish EXE (NZE) and Antwerp TOPdesk (BEL).
After easily defeating Rosedale, powerhouse Antwerp loomed as a tough test but Vienna had too much firepower with Nico Kaltenbrunner and Quincy Diggs - the No.1 ranked American player - combining for 16 points in a statement win.
Defending champs Ub Huishan NE (SRB), Partizan (SRB) and Amsterdam HiPRO (NED) were also unbeaten.
Dynamic Nico Kaltenbrunner was unstoppable for Vienna with the shooter's touch on Day One.
The 23-year-old has had a taste of the World Tour in the last couple of seasons, but might be making the leap before our eyes after an eye-catching performance.
He finished with 16 points in the two games with not even Antwerp's lockdown defender Dennis Donkor able to stop this rising Austrian star.
Just two games into the season and there was an instant classic between No.2 seed Raudondvaris Hoptrans (LTU) and Partizan (SRB), who loomed as a dark horse contender.
The Serbs jumped out to an early lead before the lethal Lithuanians stormed back thanks to high-flying Modestas Kumpys, who had two spectacular dunks and also a huge rejection.
It went down to the wire and appeared set to go into OT before ice-cold Ivan Popovic stepped up with the first Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater of the season.
Popovic completed a triple-five of 5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 highlights. He then poured in 9 points as Partizan capped an unbeaten pool phase to knockout Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy (MGL) with a 21-14 win.
ANAND DOMINATES AUSSIES AGAIN
At the start of the month, Mongolia beat three-time defending champions in a thrilling final to win the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup 2023.
There were three players part of that epic contest in the clash between Sansar MMC Energy (MGL) and Sydney CLBEXE (AUS), who were aiming for a little bit of revenge.
But Anand Ariunbold, a hero of Mongolia's Asia Cup win, continued his domination of the men from Down Under with an insane 13 points, including five from downtown Utsunomiya.
The 26-year-old led the overall scoring on Day One with 20 points and player value (18.7) as he stamps himself as a superstar on the World Tour.
Ub Huishan NE (SRB) vs Utsunomiya BREX EXE (JPN)
Vienna (AUT) vs Raudondvaris Hoptrans (LTU)
Partizan (SRB) vs Antwerp TOPdesk (BEL)
Amsterdam HiPRO (NED) vs Sansar MMC Energy (MGL)
*Top-ranked player Strahinja Stojacic continued on from his MVP season without a hiccup to fill-up the stats sheet, including finishing top in most highlights (13).
*Wesley de Jong made an immediate impact with new team Amsterdam and dominated Utsunomiya BREX EXE (JPN) with a double-five - 9 points and 8 highlights
*Ex-Liman star Aleksandar Ratkov also shone for new team Sansar to finish top in key assists (6).