Hapoel Jerusalem hopes to build on its recent defensive improvement when it hosts Nizhny Novgorod of Russia in the first leg of the Eurocup quarterfinals at Malha Arena on Wednesday night.
After allowing 93.5 points per game in four defeats over five games in all competitions, Hapoel bounced back with impressive triumphs over Ulm in the Eurocup and Maccabi Haifa in the BSL over the past week, holding its opponents to an average of 62.5 points.
Coach Brad Greenberg believes Wednesday’s first leg will also be decided on the defensive end of the floor, with Jerusalem looking to move one step closer to lifting its second continental title, 10 years after historically claiming the Eurocup’s predecessor, the ULEB Cup.
Jerusalem advanced to the quarterfinals of the Eurocup for the first time since 2010 after beating Ulm 81-65 at Malha last week to overturn a two-point loss from the first leg with its seventh straight win at home in continental competition, improving to 8-1 on the season.
Hapoel dominated Haifa on the way to an 85-60 victory at Malha on Sunday, holding the Greens to their lowest point total of the campaign.
Nizhny is coming off its best offensive showing of the season, stunning Turkish powerhouse Besiktas 95-71 at home last week to erase a 17-point first leg defeat (88-71).
Novgorod also won its regular season group with an 8-2 record and its Last 32 group at 5-1 and boasts one of the best defenses in the competition, holding its opponents to just 72.2 points per game.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, has allowed more points (78.3 ppg) than any quarterfinalist, hence Greenberg’s focus on defense.
“Nizhny is an excellent team which is very experienced and deep,” Greenberg said. “They have proven this season that they are one of the best defensive teams in Europe. They are very strong mentally and we are looking forward to testing ourselves against such a good team.
“We will require accuracy and efficiency on the offensive end and our defense will have to be very disciplined and determined to guard such a balanced side,” he added. “In the past couple of games we have guarded better from three-point range and we will have to build on that.”
Jerusalem will have to keep an especially close eye on Taylor Rochestie, who scored 22 and 23 points, respectively, in the two games against Besiktas, improving his average for the season to 14.9 points.
Slovenian center Primoz Brezec (14.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Russian Semen Antonov (12.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg) are two more in-form players Hapoel will be wary of, with the erratic Vadim Panin (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) capable of turning games almost singlehandedly.
“As you progress in the Eurocup you encounter good teams like Nizhny, which is one of the best team’s in the competition this season,” said Hapoel center Yaniv Green.
“They won both their groups, but we are not settling for simply reaching the quarterfinals. We are determined to keep progressing in the competition and I’m certain that this will be a very tight tie which will only be decided at the very end.”