Hapoel gets chance to wrap up Group J

Valencia visits Jerusalem looking to avenge Eurocup loss in Spain to Goodes’s men.

March 2, 2010 06:34
3 minute read.
Hapoel Jerusalem Tre Simmons

Hapoel Jerusalem Tre Simmons. (photo credit: BSL)

Despite being handed an extremely difficult Last 16 group, Hapoel Jerusalem can clinch first place with a game to spare if it gets the better of Valencia at Malha Arena on Tuesday night.

Jerusalem has exceeded all expectations in the group so far, defeating clubs with far greater budgets and superior rosters. The catalyst to Hapoel’s surprise continental run was the stunning road victory over Valencia in its group opener.

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Guy Goodes’s men were clear underdogs ahead of the encounter in Spain, but they left with a 79-75 victory and haven’t looked back since. Jerusalem’s only loss of the group came away from home against Unics Kazan, but Goodes’s players claimed the tiebreaker over the Russians with an 82-73 win last week and enter Tuesday’s encounter with their fate well and truly in their hands.

“We had a great win against Kazan, but now a great team with a great coach is coming to Jerusalem, Valencia, and my mentor Neven Spahija,” said Goodes, who was Spahija’s assistant at Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2006/07 season.

“It is a battle for the top spot and I never expected to be in this situation. After we beat Valencia in Spain, I am afraid we have woken the giant and they will come here with the intention of sealing their qualification and avenging their loss in Valencia.”

Valencia rebounded from its only home loss in five Eurocup seasons with three straight victories, winning at Kazan and Galatasaray before beating the Turks at home last week.

Valencia led by double-figures for most of the first half of its first meeting with Jerusalem and still looked comfortable enough when it took a nine point margin into the final 10 minutes. However, a remarkable fourth period gave Hapoel a stunning victory and complicated the Spaniards situation.

Nando De Colo and Rafael Martinez led Valencia with 23 and 15 points, respectively, in that game and have fired on all cylinders since. De Colo (18 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.3 apg in the Last 16) and Martinez (17.5 ppg) will be especially dangerous from beyond the arc, with Kosta Perovic (11.3 ppg, 4 rpg) Valencia’s main threat under the baskets.

“This is going to be a very important and interesting game for both teams,” Spahija said. “Hapoel surprised us at home and that will not happen again because we are better prepared. I can’t even think of the possibility that we will fail to make the quarterfinals.”

De Colo echoed his coach’s sentiment.

“After losing at home to Jerusalem we are well aware of what they are capable of,” he said. “We can’t take our foot off the gas in the second half as we did in the first game. We will have play superbly and maintain our composure for the full 40 minutes in order to win.”

The X-factor for Hapoel on Tuesday could be Yogev Ohayon. In Hapoel’s two home victories in the Last 16, the Israeli playmaker averaged 18.5 points (hitting 79 percent of his shot from the field), 6.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals, making him an unstoppable force from the backcourt.

In the paint, Jerusalem will be hoping for another big game from Brandon Hunter, who struggled in the Last 16 before scoring 15 points and taking eight rebounds in last week’s win over Kazan.

“Valencia is a Euroleague caliber team, and although we beat them in Spain, we felt in the team that their level of basketball is superior to most teams we normally face,” the American center said. I think they were a bit too upbeat after they beat Barcelona a few days before and that helped us. We also remember that they were up all game against us and were a bit tired in the fourth quarter.

“For us it is a chance to qualify and we will do our best and as always we will also trust our fans to give amazing support. I am sure it will help us and give us extra energy.”

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