Fenerbahce Ulker faces yet another make-or-break showdown to qualify for the Top 16 in Group C by hosting difficult Wintethur FC Barcelona in Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday at 19:15 CET. Fenerbahce (4-7) depends on itself to advance to the Top 16 but needs as many wins as it can get. In fact, Fenerbahce cannot make it to the best five in this group if it loses and Aris TT Bank wins, so a loss on Thursday means it would have to fight to become the best sixth-ranked team to seal the last ticket for the Top 16. Meanwhile, Barcelona (8-3) will finish second in this group if it loses or if CSKA beats Zalgiris in this round, but also has to count victories if it wants to finish as the best second-place team in all groups, thereby taking a first-level seeding into the Top 16 draw and avoiding the group champs in the next round. Barcelona will have to do so, however, without the Euroleague's leading scorer, Juan Carlos Navarro (18.5 ppg., 46.7% 3FG, 90.2% FT), who aggravated an old Achilles' tendon injury in the team's last practice before travelling. In the November matchup between these teams, Barcelona beat Fenerbahce 84-70 at home behind 19 points by Navarro, who joins long-term injury victim Mario Kasun (11.9 ppg.) on the sidelines. Luckily for them, the visitors have proven scorers elsewhere in the backcourt with Jaka Lakovic (11.1 ppg.) and Gianluca Basile (10.3 ppg., 45.8% 3FG). Meanwhile, Rodrigo De La Fuente (5.1 ppg., 50% 3FG) will have the tough mission to go against Fenerbahce's sharp shooters Ibrahim Kutluay (12.1 ppg.) and Damir Mrsic (10.6 ppg.), who can break open any game, any time with their unlimited range and experience. Basile will go against a top defender in Omer Onan (5.1 ppg.), while Lakovic and Roko-Leni Ukic (4.3 ppg., 41.7% 3FG) meet another experienced, dangerous point guard, Will Solomon (12.9 ppg., 3.9 apg.), who has been playing better since Eddie Basdem (6.3 ppg., 1.8 spg.) arrived in Istanbul. Without Kasun to help, Fran Vazquez (3.5 ppg.) and Denis Marconato (6.9 ppg., 68.4% 2FG) will share all minutes at center while Michalis Kakiouzis (6.5 ppg., 3.7 rpg.) and Jordi Trias (5.6 ppg.) are ready to see extended playing time at power forward. Fenerbahce has its own injury problems, too, as rebounds king Mirsad Turkcan (8.7 ppg., 9.6 rpg.) will miss his third game with an elbow injury. As such, Kaspars Kambala (15.6 ppg.) will be the hosts' main frontcourt reference, even when he will get help from veteran forward Ira Clark (3.2 ppg.). Up-and-coming big men Semih Erden (4.4 ppg.), Oguz Savas (3.2 ppg.) and Rasim Basak (2.8 ppg.) stand ready to provide intensity off the bench. If Vazquez uses his long arms and timing to slow Kambala, Barcelona will have the most chances to win, even when Fenerbahce is in a do-or-die situation and will be backed by its expectant fans.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007