Unicaja hosts Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv with a share of second place in Group B at stake on Thursday at the Martin Carpena Arena in Malaga, Spain. Both teams come into the game tied for third place with 2-1 records, but since the group's undefeated co-leaders, Aris TT Bank and Lietuvos Rytas, also meet this week, the winner of Unicaja and Maccabi is sure to move up to second with a 3-1 record. The teams are meeting in the regular season for the second time in as many seasons. In fact Maccabi was the last Euroleague team to win in Malaga, recording a 67-73 victory last December. The Maccabi heroes from that night, Yotam Halperin (24 points, 4 assists, 3 steals) and Lior Eliyahu (16 points), are still with the team. But since then, Maccabi is 2-6 on the road, while Unicaja has won nine straight at home. Unicaja is coming off back-to-back wins, including a 38-point drubbing of Cibona in its lone home game this season. Davor Kus has been head coach Sergio Scariolo's top offensive weapon so far this season, with Daniel Santiago and Boniface N'Dong the big guns inside. Athletic power forward Marcus Haislip is expected back after skipping last week's game with an eye injury. Unicaja's 86.3 points per game has the team tied for third in the league this season. It is also third in rebounds, but second in turnovers committed. Meanwhile Maccabi is in good spirits after hanging on for a tough win against Efes Pilsen last week and well rested after it Israeli League game was postponed. The team is still without injured All-Euroleague center Nikola Vujcic, but the performance of Esteban Batista off the bench last week gives head coach Oded Kattash reasons for optimism. Maccabi will need its big guys to step up against the Unicaja trio. Batista, Eliyahu and Terence Morris all seem to match up well against their counterparts, but the question mark surrounds Marcus Fizer, who is well-known in Spain after having a strong season last year for Murcia CB. Other interesting matchups could be Berni Rodriguez against David Bluthenthal at small forward and Bojan Popovic versus Will Bynum at point guard. This game could serve as a good test for both teams to prove themselves to see if they can challenge for the top spots in the group. The game will likely be an uptempo affair, as both teams' guards like to run and score. Whichever side can do so in a controlled way while also keeping the big guys involved and effective will have a big edge.
Unicaja head coach, Sergio Scariolo
"We have a game against one of the strongest teams of the competition in terms of talent and tradition. After a good start to the competition, we have the opportunity to move oruselves into a good spot in the standings, although the obstacle in front of us is one of the highest you can find in the Euroleague. I think that beyond the fact of our persistently inconsistent play and up-and-down results, the last week we have taken an important step forward as regards our attitude on the court. I hope that our fans, who have already noticed this improvement, support our players as best they know how, especially now that they are going through a moment of low form and low confidence, so that they can help the team rise up with active and productive contributions from the most players. That will be absolutely necessary to beat such a tough rival as Maccabi."
Unicaja center, German Gabriel
"I believe this game against Maccabi is very important because it will help us as much in the Euroleague itself as it will our team morale. I think our last Spanish League game showed that we have character, a will to fight and win, but we were unable to take the victory. Now, we have to keep working day to day in order to improve. What's important now is to get a win in order to take a positive step forward."
Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv head coach, Oded Kattash
"Unicaja is a very good home team, despite the results they have had in the Spanish League so far. They played great against Cibona last week and also in the game against Armani Jeans Milano that I saw. It's a very tough road game, but almost any road game in our group is a tough one. I think we have a good match up against them. They have very quick guards, but if we know how to control the tempo of the game, they'll have fewer options. They also have two very good big men, so we'll try to make them work hard on defense and use their lack of quickness."
Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv guard, Will Bynum
"It's going to be a war. There are no more easy games in the Euroleague. The level is high, and there's no one team better than the rest. So we'll try to go out there and do the little things that give wins. That's it. I hope that by the end of the year we'll play well and be healthy. We have good memories from Malaga. Last year we took a big road win there. Hopefully we'll do it again."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007