vujcic 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will seek its sixth straight Euroleague win and 13th overall on Thursday night when it faces Armani Jeans Milano in Italy.
However, a game that seemed like a formality that Maccabi would win with ease got much tougher on Wednesday when AJ fired its coach and replaced him with a legend, former European champ and Olympic medalist Sasha Djordjevic.
Furthermore, Maccabi arrived in Milan shorthanded, after star center Nikola Vujcic remained at home with the flu.
Two months ago these teams squared off in one of the most exciting games this season has offered, with Maccabi escaping with 96-95 double-overtime victory at Nokia Arena that was only settled by a Will Solomon three in the final seconds.
Since then AJ has had all sorts of problems, at one point losing four in a row. Players have come and gone, but victories were hard to come by. Now with Djordjevic, who retired from playing at the end of last season after helping the team reach the Italian league finals, at the helm, Milano will be eager to turn things around, even if it has no realistic chance of advancing to the Top 16.
The team's top weapons are guard Massimo Bulleri, who had season-highs of 26 points and 11 rebounds in the game at Nokia Arena, sharpshooter Dante Calabria and versatile big man Giacomo Galanda. Recent addition Tyrone Grant has been effective at the forward spot, scoring 12 and grabbing 13 rebounds last week to help the team to a rare blowout win over Cibona Zagreb. Swingman Preston Shumpert will need to play big on both sides of the court in his matchup with Anthony Parker, while center Joe Blair will be dangerous in the paint without Vujcic around.
For Maccabi, Jamie Arnold, Yaniv Green and Sharon Shason will all get extended opportunities to play in the absence of Vujcic, while Maceo Baston may be needed for more than his average of 23 minutes.
Will Solomon, whose 17.3 points per game are second most in the league, will be counted on to carry the scoring load more than usual as well.
Maccabi has won three straight against Milano, but the Italian side holds the overall advantage over the years, 9-8. Many of their games went straight into the history books, particularly when the team then known as Olimpia Milano defeated Tel Aviv in back-to-back seasons for the European title in 1987 and '88.
Ashkelon eliminated from EuroCup Challenge
A huge game from Brandon Kurtz wasn't enough to save Elitzur Ashkelon from an 85-67 defeat at the hands of Ural Great and its Israeli coach Sharon Drucker on Wednesday in Russia. Ural, which won the first leg in Israel 90-69, advances to the FIBA EuroCup Challenge semifinals.
Kurtz finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. Jurica Golemac led Ural with 13.