A big Group G showdown is set for Thursday in Treviso, Italy, where Benetton hosts Unicaja in a pivotal game whose winner will get an inside track toward the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Both teams are tied for first place in the group with Dynamo Moscow, each with a 2-1 record. The winner between Benetton and Unicaja, therefore, will at least share first place - and could be alone there depending on Dynamo's result against winless Aris - with just two Top 16 games left. In their first meeting, Unicaja beat Benetton 72-61 in Malaga, Spain behind 14 points from Carlos Jimenez (6.6 ppg., 4.6 rpg.). For Benetton, Marcus Goree (13.2 ppg., 6.6 rpg., 1.5 spg.) had 24 points and earned Top 16 Week 1 co-MVP honors in that game. Unicaja point guard and regular season hero Pepe Sanchez (6.9 ppg., 2.7 apg.) did not play in a Spanish League game over the weekend due to disciplinary reasons, but has rejoined the team for the game in Treviso. Meanwhile, Benetton won't have Erazem Lorbek, a forward who played also for Unicaja this season, because he is now with a third team, Lottomatica Roma. Sanchez and Carlos Cabezas (9 ppg., 2.3 apg.) will share the point guard duties while Berni Rodriguez (12.5 ppg., 41.9% 3FG, 2.9 apg.) and Jiri Welsch (9.9 ppg., 43.3% 3FG), 1.5 spg.) are set to start at both wings. Sharpshooters Marcus Faison (6.3 ppg.) and Costas Vasileadis (6.7 ppg.) are set to play a critical role in this game, too. Benetton will have to put pressure on Sanchez and Cabezas and has the right duo of playmakers, Marco Mordente (9.8 ppg., 53.2% 3FG) and Nikos Zisis (11.1 ppg., 4.5 apg.), to do so, with help from Terrell Lyday (9.8 ppg.), who can play either guard spot. Defensive ace Matteo Soragna (7.2 ppg.) will have a tough matchup with Faison, while Preston Shumpert (9.7 ppg., 57.1% 3FG) will test his scoring skills against Vasileadis. One of the key matchups for Benetton, however, will be slowing Daniel Santiago (11.1 ppg., 4.8 rpg.), as Unicaja anchors its offense in their big center. Without Lorbek in Treviso, Benetton is limited to Goree, Spencer Nelson (8.8 ppg., 6.3 rpg.) and Angelo Gigli (6.8 ppg.) around the basket. Santiago highlights a deep Unicaja frontcourt featuring power forwards Jimenez and Marko Tusek (6.3 ppg., 43.8% 3FG), defensive ace Florent Pietrus (3.6 ppg., 64.5% 2FG) and hard-nosed center Ignacio De Miguel (2.5 ppg.). Above all, the winner will take a big step towards reaching the playoffs, so expect nothing but a huge battle in Treviso on Thursday.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007