ESSEX Leopards coach Thomas Baker is ready for a difficult game as the Big Cats face Team Newcastle for the first time on Sunday.

Tip-off at Essex Sports Arena is at the 2pm, with Essex Rebels women facing Newcastle Eagles in the Women's British Basketball League at 4.30pm.

Baker said: “Sunday’s game see us take on a strong Newcastle team.

“Coach [Ian] Hewitt’s team are well organised and highly effective at playing in the half court.

"They have shown they can score from both inside and outside the three-point line and they have shown that they can dig deep and pull out wins against teams they weren’t expected to beat.”

Baker is looking to build on a run of form that has seen the Big Cats start to move up the division one table as well as record wins in the National Cup and Trophy.

“Right now we are riding high with three wins from our last three games in all competitions," said Baker.

“We are sharing the ball well and scoring very effectively. I have been really impressed with the changes we have made defensively, we are starting to really come together as a unit which is great.”

Now in their second season in the top flight, Newcastle have built on a tough first Division One campaign and after splitting their first eight league games, they are currently joint eight in the table.

After edging a tight game 79-70 at Myerscough College in the National Cup third round, the north east side went out of the competition at the last 16 stage with a 94-68 home loss against a Solent Kestrels team who face Leopards at Brentwood in the semi-final.

Their National Trophy campaign was also brief, winning 78-74 at Manchester Magic in their opening group game before being hammered 88-51 at home by Bradford Dragons.

Tickets for Sunday’s double header can be bought on the day or through

After seeing his Leopards side collect a weekend double with wins against Leicester Warriors and Reading Rockets, Baker was a happy man.

He said: "Picking up our first win was the main outcome that we wanted to achieve this weekend however to potentially be in another semi-final is a great achievement for us.

"We knew this weekend would test us mentally as both games had contrasting styles.

"Leicester proved to be tough opposition as they frustrated us for the most part and even though there were a few lapses for the most part we did enough to win that game.

"The game against Reading was by far our best defensive performance and potentially our best performance to date so far.

"Keeping them to eight points in the first quarter really set the tone for us and it helped us build our performance as the game went on.

"We will continue to get better and with the recent additions of KJ [Lee] and Asante [Sandiford] along with the committed development of the guys who have been here from the start we are now starting to show what we could really achieve this year.

"I always knew we had these types of performances in us, the guys were excellent this weekend and we look forward to getting on the court together again as we look to build consistency."