Winterthur FCB will look to end a three-game slide into the danger zone of Group B when it hosts Efes Pilsen on Thursday in Barcelona, Spain. Both teams were considered among the pre-season favorites in Group B, but while Efes (6-2) started with four straight wins, Barcelona (3-5) has had to deal with injuries all season long. The latest blow came with the news that former scoring champ Milos Vujanic will miss the rest of the season after knee surgery. In the last meeting between these teams, back in Week 2, Henry Domercant played all 40 minutes and finished with a season-high 23 points and 8 rebounds to lead Efes to a 66-63 victory. Efes has yet to lose on the road this season, showing how tough coach Oktay Mahmuti's defense can be. Led by Kaya Peker (13.2 ppg., 5.5 rpg.), who's enjoying the best season of his young career, Efes is 4-0 in games decided by 5 points or less. Peker is joined by Nikola Prkacin (12.3 ppg., 6 rpg.) and hard-working Kerem Gonlum (6.1 rpg.) in forming a tough frontline. Winterthur will present Efes with the challenge of cracking its versatile corps of big men, led by three veterans: wily Gregor Fucka, solid Denis Marconato (7.8 ppg., 5.8 rpg.) and versatile Mikalis Kakiouzis (12 ppg., 5.5 rpg.). The team's scoring threats are focused in the backcourt, where Juan Carlos Navarro (14.4 ppg.) and Shammond Williams (14 ppg.), who missed the last domestic game with flu but has returned to practices, form a dynamic duo. Add to them Gianluca Basile (8.5 ppg.) and Bootsy Thornton, and you get one of the deepest collections of guards in the Euroleague. Efes rarely is intimidated by big-name opponents, however, and Marko Popovic (14.3 ppg.), swingmen Antonio Granger (9.7 ppg.) and Domercant (13 ppg., 2.5 spg.) have learned to play off each other nicely as the season has progressed. Barcelona can play any style of hoops, having already scored 91 points and lost one game, while scoring 65 and winning another. This game will likely be more about defense. One key for Barcelona will be to attack the basket more than in the first game, when it made just four trips to the foul line all night. It also must be careful with the ball, as Efes recorded 12 steals to Barcelona's 3 that night. Ultimately, this game could be decided by the hot hand, meaning that Navarro and Williams will likely get more touches down the stretch for Winterthur, as Popovic and Domercant will for Efes. The team that gets those points – or the one that finds away to limit the opponent's scorers – should earn the victory.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006