Benetton hosts resurgent Union Olimpija on Thursday in Treviso, Italy as it aims to keep in the race for first place in Group A . Union Olimpija (2-4) has won its last two games after an 0-4 start. The team's turnaround coincided with the return to the sidelines of head coach Zmago Sagadin. Last week, Olimpija outlasted Climamio 87-80 in overtime thanks to a Euroleague career-high 24 points from Yotam Halperin. Benetton (4-2), meanwhile, bounced back from consecutive defeats to thrash AEK 57-83 in Athens as promising forward Andrea Bargnani put up his Euroleague career-high, 16 points. Olimpija's strength is in its backcourt. The trio of Halperin (13.5 ppg., 4.5 apg.), Teemu Rannikko (12.5 ppg.) and Jimmy Oliver (16.5 ppg.), who has been coming off the bench since Sagadin arrived, has provided the team with its No. 1 scorer for all but one game this season. However, they are likely to be without the other guard in the rotation, Vedran Morojiv, who is nursing an injury, but recent additions Marko Antonijevic, a playmaker, and Ernest Novak, a shooting guard, might be ready this week. Of course, the Benetton guards are no slouches, and the situation is much better now with the return from injury of Ramunas Siskaukas, who played last week for the first time since opening night. Playmaker Nikos Zisis (8.6 ppg., 5 apg.) and Drew Nicholas (15.3 ppg.) have been averaging at least 34 minutes per game. They will likely have an extra-detailed scouting report on Halperin, who spent the early part of his career under the tutelage of Benetton coach David Blatt when they were both at Maccabi Tel Aviv. Benetton, the co-Italian League leaders, can trace much of its success to its fantastic frontcourt of center Petar Popovic (12.5 ppg., 5 rpg.) and Marcus Goree (14 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.6 blocks). Now they will go up against the poorest rebounding team in the league. Olimpija has averaged a mere 26.8 rebounds per game. Perhaps Olimpija's biggest challenge will be finding a way for big men Szymon Szewczyk (10.2 ppg.), Vasco Evitmov (8.3 ppg., 4.8 rpg.) and Hasan Rizvic to keep up with their counterparts. Only one Olimpija game this season has been determined by more than 10 points, which shows that the team always finds a way to be close, no matter the potential mismatches. But for the Slovenian champs to have a shot at the road win, they'll need to show top-notch basketball in what promises to be an attractive and high-scoring game.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005