BEITAR JERUSALEM midfielder Claudemir celebrates after netting his team’s equalizer in last night’s 3-1 win at Hapoel Ashkelon.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
For the first time in 22 years, the top four teams in the BSL standings meet in the State Cup semifinals on Monday night at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which leads the league table with a 13-3 record, faces Maccabi Ashdod, which is at 9-7 but owns the BSL’s longest winning streak at six straight victories.
Hapoel Holon (12-4) plays Hapoel Jerusalem (11-5) in the second semifinal.
But while Monday could prove to be a dress rehearsal for June’s season-ending Final Four tournament, no one will be looking that far ahead, knowing they are within a victory of playing in Thursday’s cup final at Yad Eliyahu.
While Maccabi has struggled in local league action in recent years, it hasn’t lost in the cup since December 2008 when it was defeated by Ironi Nahariya in the last 16 and has lifted the trophy in the past eight years.
Tel Aviv is back to being a clear favorite this season, not only leading the BSL standings but also going 12-10 in the Euroleague to date to put itself on course for a return to the continental quarterfinals.
After losing seven of its first 10 games, Ashdod has picked up momentum over the past couple of months, surging up the BSL standings and winning eight games in a row over all competitions, including in the cup round-of-16 and quarterfinals. Ashdod hasn’t lost a game since falling to Hapoel Eilat in BSL action on December 18.
“Our team has obviously had a good January, but this is a different challenge altogether against Maccabi,” said Ashdod coach Brad Greenberg. “It is a great challenge but that is fun to. You don’t get a chance often to look a great team in the eye and see how you can do against them.”
Maccabi coach Neven Spahija insisted his team wouldn’t underestimate Ashdod.
“I’ve had experience coaching the favorite team on paper and coaching an underdog too and I can tell you we will be ready like we play any Euroleague game,” said Spahija.
A late run inspired by Jerome Dyson saw Hapoel Jerusalem snatch a dramatic 88-86 win over Hapoel Holon in BSL action the last time the teams met two months ago. Dyson finished with 29 points, including the go-ahead threepoint play with 10.9 seconds remaining.
“I don’t know if it is to our advantage or disadvantage that we are coming in without playing a game in eight days,” said Jerusalem captain Yotam Halperin.
“We have had many ups and downs this season and that isn’t something which is healthy for a team. But I think that recently we have found our way and our starting to maximize our potential.”