Cibona will looks to cement its homecourt reputation and stake a claim for one of the top spots in Group B when it hosts Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Drazen Petrovic center in Zagreb, Croatia on Thursday. Cibona would match Maccabi's record and take a share of at least third place in the group with a victory, but could fall three wins behind the current leader, Lietuvos Rytas, with a defeat. Will Solomon and Jamie Arnold scored 20 apiece to lead Maccabi to an 83-74 win when these teams met in Tel Aviv back in Week 3. Cibona point guard Scoonie Penn led his team with 25 points that night. Maccabi has had Cibona's number over the years, winning the last five Euroleague meetings between them, including two in Zagreb. Cibona is undefeated this season at home in four games, three of which it won by double figures. However Maccabi has been playing its best basketball of the season recently and has won its last three, two on the road. The pre-game headlines focus on Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic (13.1 ppg., 6.5 rpg., 5.1 apg.) returning home to Croatia. Vujcic is used to being the center of things as he controls Maccabi's half-court game from the pivot, ranking second in the league in assists. Not only are Vujcic and teammate Anthony Parker (13.8 ppg., 6.2 rpg., 4.1 apg.) the only two non-point guards among the league's top 10 in assists, but together they average more the entire Cibona team (8.8 apg.). This game will be about a clash in styles with the league's top scoring team, Maccabi (88.4 ppg.), taking on the second-lowest in Cibona (66.7 ppg.). The backcourt of Solomon (16.4 ppg.), Tal Burstein (8.8 ppg.), Parker and Derrick Sharp (9 ppg., 51.3% 3FG) will try to entice opponents Penn (14.8 ppg.), Davor Kus (9.7 ppg.) and Damir Rancic into picking up the pace of the game, but Cibona may be better off in the half-court, where Bennett Davison (10.3 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), Damir Markota (10 ppg., 65.5% 2FG), Mate Skelin and Davor Marcelic can be more involved. If that's the case, Maccabi may turn more to Arnold (7 ppg.), whose best game this season was against Cibona, even though he has totaled 4 points in his last four appearances. There is also Sharon Shason, whose speed and outside shooting from the power forward position have enabled Maccabi to exploit mismatches. Shason's 16 points on perfect shooting from the floor was key to Maccabi outgunning Olympiacos last week. Ultimately, Cibona will need a big game from Penn and for him to beat Solomon in their head-to-head matchup to stop the defending champs.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006