(photo credit: )
Hapoel Jerusalem have a terrific chance to reach the quarterfinals of the ULEB Cup after being drawn on Friday afternoon to play Latvian champions BK Ventsplis in the first elimination round of the competition.
Jerusalem, which finished third in its group with a 5-5 record, has struggled with its form in European play, suffering several humiliating losses, but was fortunate to receive the relatively weaker opponent in the draw.
Ventspils dominates its local league, winning the last seven championships, and finished second in Group B of the ULEB Cup with seven wins and three losses. The Latvians will be entering their tie with Jerusalem in superb form after winning their last five games in continental play.
Nevertheless, Ventspils is a favorable draw for Hapoel, with the Israelis avoiding Unics Kazan of Russia, one of the cup favorites, and strong French side Nancy.
"Every opponent is tough, there are no easy games," Hapoel coach Dan Shamir said of the draw. "Ventspils has achieved good results in the ULEB Cup and we will need to play at a high level to defeat them."
Jerusalem will host the first leg on January 30, with the return leg taking place in Latvia two weeks later.
Ventspils is led by American guard Eddie Shannon who averages 15.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. Shannon is one of five players on the team who average more than 10 ppg, with Dusan Jelic second to the American with 12.5 ppg and 6.9 rpg.
"All the teams that reached this stage are a challenge and play at a very high level," Hapoel captain Meir Tapiro said. "In the last stage we were in a very tight group and I hope that experience helps to progress to the next round."
Should the Israelis advance they will face the winner of the tie between BC FMP of Belgrade and Gran Canaria of Spain in the last eight.
Vujcic is named Euroleague weekly MVP
Maccabi Tel Aviv center Nikola Vujcic was announced on Friday as the Euroleague's weekly MVP for the third time this season after his performance in Maccabi?s 91-83 victory over Cibona Zagreb.
The Croatian, who shared the accolade with James Thomas of Climamio Bologna, scored 29 points on 12-of-17 from the field and added seven rebounds, six assists and two blocks, accumulating a total index of 34.