Age-old rivals Partizan and Union Olimpija Ljubljana will square off with their Top 16 hopes very much in play on Wednesday when they meet for a Group B showdown at Pionir Arena in Belgrade, Serbia. The Serbian champs and Slovenian champs were longtime foes in the former Yugoslavia and continue their sporting rivalry today, having played three times this season already between the Euroleague and Adriatic League, with Partizan winning all three. Both teams are well-known for their young squads and home-grown talent, something evident on their current rosters. Partizan (4-7) has struggled as of late, dropping three straight Euroleague games to slip into a three-way tie for fifth place in Group B. Olimpija (3-8) is coming off a huge 87-59 win over Unicaja that kept head coach Gasper Okorn's squad alive in the hunt for a spot in the Top 16. Dusan Kecman's jumper in the final seconds led Partizan to a 70-71 road win in the teams' first Euroleague meeting in November. Center Kosta Perovic scored 17 and grabbed 9 boards as Partizan took a 76-90 decision last week over Olimpija in the Adriatic League, too. Point guard Teemu Rannikko (13.8 ppg., 3.3 apg.) and forward Marko Milic (15.1 ppg., 6.9 rpg.) have been Olimpija's dynamic duo for much of the season, but the improved play of Ender Arslan (10.4 ppg.), who recorded season-highs of 16 points and 6 assists in last week's win, could be what the team needs to win more games. Partizan's biggest strength is inside, where the frontline rotation of Predrag Drobnjak (16.3 ppg., 7 rpg.), Perovic (10.3 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 1.5 bpg.) and Nikola Pekovic is among the biggest and most productive in the league. Olimpija will need big men Hasan Rizvic, Saulius Kazminskas and Ivica Jurkovic (9.3 ppg.) to all step up and keep their team close in the paint. The battle between the team's multi-talented swingmen, Uros Tripkovic and Luka Bogdanovic of Partizan and Olimpija's Manu Markoishvilli (9 ppg.), could also play a factor in the game. Partizan playmaker Vonteego Cummings (12.6 ppg., 3.7 apg.) could be the man the hosts will use to try and break Arslan. This game is a crucial one for both teams, as the loser will see its chances of reaching the Top 16 reduced with minimal time left to recover. Partizan remains the favorite, considering its recent record against Olimpija, but anything can happen if the visiting team's trio of stars shines bright.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007