Very few men can look Real Madrid tower of power Walter Tavares in the eye. TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz center Youssoupha Fall is one of them. The duo will square off for the third time in Turkish Airlines EuroLeague play on Friday night at Buesa Arena.
At 2.20 meters, Tavares intimidates many players who line up against him. Fall, however, checks in at one centimeter taller. Both are known for their elite shot-blocking skills. While Tavares, a former Best Defender Trophy winner, has led the league in blocks in each of the past two seasons – racking up 1.9 per game over that span – Fall debuted last season by ranking seventh in blocks per-minute (1.90 prorated over 40 minutes). Though height helps both place high in blocks, Fall truly shines in rebounding. He ranked first last season in per-minute rebounding at 14.2 over 40 minutes; Tavares was fourth at 12.4.
Fall made only six starts as a rookie, including in Round 15 against Tavares and Real. On that December night, he posted 8 points, 9 rebounds and 1 block – of Tavares, no less, one of the two times that his shot was stopped all season! Perhaps the rejection got into Tavares's head because he finished the night with just 2 points and 6 rebounds for a performance index rating of 4, tying his second-lowest of the season. Despite Fall's strong showing, Real coasted to a 55-77 triumph.
When they next met in Madrid, in Round 23, Real held off Baskonia 70-69. Tavares played closer to normal, with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks for a PIR of 16. Fall made his lone shot en route to 2 points, 7 rebounds and 1 assist in 11 minutes, but also committed 4 turnovers to finish with a PIR of 3.
In their third EuroLeague meeting tonight, this clash between two of the tallest EuroLeague players ever should be a spectacle to behold.