Unicaja marks its Group B home opener on Wednesday night with a visit from Cibona Zagreb to Martin Carpena Arena in Malaga, Spain. Unicaja is coming off a narrow loss at Aris last week, 87-83, in a game which it led by 8 points early in the fourth quarter. But there is nothing like the sold-out crowds in Malaga to lift the team's spirits. In fact, Unicaja is riding an eight-game home-court winning streak in Euroleague action. Meanwhile, Cibona battled back from an early deficit to down Efes Pilsen 93-85 in its first game, at home in Zagreb. Cibona made due without big man Sam Hoskin, who turned an ankle in the first minute and did not return. Hoskin is travelling to Malaga this week. His absence was not felt against Eves thanks to the outstanding play of homegrown talent Luksa Andric, who finished with his Euroleague career-high of 19 points. The player in the spotlight this week will be Unicaja point guard Davor Kus, a former Cibona captain who switched sides this summer after spending six of the last seven seasons with the Croatian champs. Kus has made a soft landing at his new home and last led Unicaja in scoring at Aris with 17 points. He is part of a deep Unicaja backcourt, which also features Bojan Popovic and Carlos Cabezas, not to mention small forwards Jiri Welsch and Berni Rodriguez. Tre Kelley has stepped into Kus's shoes as Cibona's first-string playmaker, while shooter Larry Ayuso and explosive wing Chris Warren are joined by veteran Damir Mulaomerovic to round out the backcourt. Centers Daniel Santiago and Boniface N'Dong, power forward Marcus Haislip and versatile Carlos Jimenez represent Unicaja in the paint. In Hoskin's absence, Andric became the main cog in the Cibona frontcourt, with Marin Rozic, Vedran Vukusic and center Franko Kastropil also stepping up their games. If Hoskins is slowed down still, Andric's ability to carry Cibona's offense inside could be a key to this game. The big guy will have it tough against Unicaja's waves of interior defense, but without him, coach Josip Vrankovic's side could become too reliant on three-point shooting. Meanwhile, Unicaja knows that it can be practically unstoppable when its crisp passing game is working, and so will try to play smart basketball and avoid turnovers to maximize its talents. This game is no ordinary meeting for these teams. Cibona knows what a 2-0 start can do for its confidence and Unicaja cannot allow itself to start 0-2, nor to lose at home. Expect to see both teams at their best in this crucial Week 2 matchup.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007