|Asvel Basket looks to finish what was once an improbable march to the Top 16 when it faces the lone undefeated team in the competition, Regal Barcelona, on Thursday at the Astroballe in Villeurbanne, France. After starting the season 0-4 and losing its star center, Curtis Borchardt, for the remainder of the regular season, few would have expected Asvel to challenge for the Top 16. But after winning three of last four, head coach Vncent Collet’s men are in the thick of the race. In fact, the French champion could advance this week with a win and a Cibona loss at Zalgiris. But beating Barca is no easy task. Head coach Xavi Pascual’s team is dominating in a way that few teams have ever done before in the Euroleague on both sides of the ball. It’s average margin of victory is 20.9 points and its iron-clad defense has now held opponents below 60 points in two of its last three games and in four games overall. And on offense, Barca leads the league in free throw shooting (80.2%), is second in two-point shooting (61.2%) and third in fewest turnovers committed (11.5 TOpg.). The Spanish champion’s toughest home win so far came against Asvel in November. Behind a strong effort from Ali Traore, Asvel led 52-53 late in the third quarter before Barca pulled away. Now with Rawle Marshall around to compliment Traore’s scoring, Asvel will target the upset. Of course neither Traore nor Marshall will have an easy time getting their points. Traore will team with Victor Samnick and Eric Campbell in an undersized frontcourt that will challenge Barca’s intimidating lineup of Fran Vazquez, Boni NDong, Terence Morris and Erazem Lorbek. On the wings, Marshall teams with Mindaugas Lukauskis, Kristjan Kangur, Laurent Foirest and Ben Dewar to tangle with Pete Mickeal, Juan Carlos Navarro, Gianluca Basile and Roger Grimau. At point guard, Bobby Dixon and Aymeric Jeanneau will look for a way to crack rising star Ricky Rubio and Victor Sada. Asvel will need a near-perfect offensive night to have a chance at topping Barcelona, starting with an improvement in three-point shooting (32.9%) and turnovers (16.1 TOpg.). Barcelona may be the favorite, but expect a confident Asvel side to challenge with zeal for a signature victory.
REFEREES: Dubravko Muhvic, Recep Ankarali, Carmelo Paternico
Mindaugas Lukauskis has recorded at least 1 steal in each of his last 10 Euroleague appearances. He leads the Euroleague this season with 2.6 steals per game.
Lukauskis’s scoring and index rating have increased in each of his last four games, peaking with a season-high 20 points in Week 8 against Montepaschi.
Ali Traore has scored in double figures in each of the last seven games.
Nine different players have appeared in the Asvel Basket starting lineup this season. Lukauskis and Bobby Dixon are the only players to start every game thus far.
Regal FC Barcelona
Juan Carlos Navarro needs 3 more assists to reach Tyus Edney for 10th place on the Euroleague career assists charts. Navarro currently has 381 assists in 163 career games.
Navarro has scored in double figures in each of his last six games.
Jaka Lakovic needs just 9 more successful free throws to become just the second player to make 600 free throws in his Euroleague career.
Lakovic is 17 assists away from becoming the fifth player to reach 500 assists for his Euroleague career.
Terrence Morris and Erazem Lorbek are both just 3 blocks away from cracking the top 10 on the Euroleague’s career shot-blocking charts. They enter Week 9 tied for 14th place with 77 career blocks. Marcus Haislip sits in 10th place, though two active players, Real Madrid’s Jorge Garbajosa and Montepaschi’s Ben Eze are ahead of them with 79 blocks each.
Ricky Rubio has made 17 straight free throws over his last eight Euroleague games.
Rubio is the only Barcelona player to stars all eight games this season.
Barcelona boasts the best defense in the Euroleague this season, having allowed an average of just 61.4 points per game.
Gianluca Basile is 3 three-point attempts away from becoming the first player to try 1,000 triples in his Euroleague career.
Wednesday, January 06, 2010