Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Gal Mekel.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv has barely been competitive in the Euroleague over the past two years. The yellow- and-blue has also gone two straight seasons without winning the BSL title for the first time in 50 years.
But even when Maccabi fails everywhere else, it seems to always have the State Cup to fall back on.
Tel Aviv faces Maccabi Ashdod in the cup semifinals at the Jerusalem Arena on Monday night, aiming to close within one victory of winning the competition for an eighth consecutive year.
Hapoel Jerusalem plays Hapoel Holon in the second semifinal of the night.
Maccabi’s last loss in the cup came against Ironi Nahariya in the Last 16 back in December 2008. Maccabi beat Ashdod in last year’s final and the yellowand- blue will be a firm favorite to triumph once more on Monday despite a disastrous campaign to date.
Maccabi will be entering the semifinal on the back of an 85-84 win over Baskonia Vitoria in Euroleague action on Thursday, improving to 8-14, but remaining three games back of eighth place which leads to the playoffs with eight regular season games to play.
Maccabi dropped to a defeat to Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL in its last local game last Sunday, but beat Ashdod 91-85 the previous week.
Ashdod is targeting its second straight final, but comes into the semi on the back of five consecutive defeats in the BSL, leaving it with the second-worst record in the league (5-13).
“They had time to prepare for us and they will want to show that their defeats to us in the BSL were an accident,” said Maccabi coach Ainars Bagatskis.
“We know why we are here and what we are playing for.”
Ashdod coach Meir Tapiro, who is in his first year on the sidelines, has plenty of cup experience as a player, reaching the semifinals six times in the past despite never playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, winning the trophy once.
“We have nothing to lose and hopefully we can implement our game-plan,” said Tapiro.
Jerusalem hasn’t won the cup since 2008, but enters the semis as the favorite to go all the way.
Hapoel has won 11 of its past 13 games over all competitions, advancing to the Eurocup quarterfinals from first place in Group G with a win over Nizhny Novgorod in Russia last Wednesday.
However, one of its two defeats in 2017 came against Holon, which is the only team to have beaten Jerusalem twice this season.
Holon, the last team not named Maccabi Tel Aviv to take the cup back in 2009, has won four straight BSL games to move to a 13-5 record, second only to Maccabi (13-4), but it enters Monday’s semi reeling from an injury crisis.
It lost star guard Khalif Wyatt, the BSL’s top scorer, until the end of the season after he suffered a serious knee injury in last week’s win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion. Dagan Yivzori also hurt his knee in the same game, and will miss the next four weeks.
“The cup semis are a very happy occasion, but we are entering it on the back of a very painful and tough week,” said Holon coach Dan Shamir, who guided Jerusalem to its past two cup triumphs in 2007 and 2008.
“We are facing many challenges in this game and I’m not sure what Holon team we will see in the semis.”
Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani was in a far more upbeat mood on Sunday and is hoping not to lose to Shamir for a third time this season.
“Shamir has already beaten me two times this season and also two times before that, so maybe it would have been better if he was the one missing this game,” joked Pianigiani.
“We will try to do something different and I hope I beat him this time.” On TV: State Cup basketball semifinals: Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Maccabi Ashdod (live on Sport5 at 6:20 p.m.); Hapoel Jerusalem vs Hapoel Holon (live on Sport5+ at 8:50 p.m.)