All to play for in State Cup semifinals

Struggling yellow-and-blue faces Ness Ziona after Rishon meets Ashdod in first game at Yad Eliyahu.

President Reuven Rivlin stands behind Maccabi Tel Aviv players after presenting them with the State Cup. (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESPERSON OFFICE)
President Reuven Rivlin stands behind Maccabi Tel Aviv players after presenting them with the State Cup.
On the back of yet another dejecting failure, Maccabi Tel Aviv aims to find some cheer in a bitter campaign when it faces Ironi Ness Ziona in the State Cup semifinals at Yad Eliyahu Arena on Monday night.
Maccabi Rishon Lezion plays Maccabi Ashdod in the first semi of the day, and with the yellow-and-blue looking so vulnerable this season, each and every team in the last four believes this could be its year.
Rishon, Ashdod and Ness Ziona have never won the cup or the championship, while Maccabi has claimed 51 local league titles and 42 cups, including the past six.
The final will be played at Yad Eliyahu on Thursday.
The yellow-and-blue hasn’t lost a cup game in more than seven years, since it was stunned by Ironi Nahariya in the round of 16 in December 2008. Maccabi was on course for an early cup exit this season, trailing by 14 points with seven minutes to play in its quarterfinal against Maccabi Haifa. However, it ended the night with a 19-2 run and clinched its progress with a dramatic 73-70 victory thanks to Taylor Rochestie’s three-pointer with 0.4 seconds to play.
Maccabi had hoped that morale-boosting win would kick-start its campaign, but it has lost six of nine games over all competitions since, including its past three. A defeat in Slovenia against Olimpija Ljubljana was followed by a 35-point drubbing at the hands of Maccabi Haifa in the BSL, its heaviest ever loss in local action. That was followed by a 95-84 overtime defeat to Nizhny Novgorod in a do-or-die showdown at Yad Eliyahu that ended the team’s Eurocup campaign.
Maccabi and Ness Ziona last played just three weeks ago, with Tel Aviv easily winning by 23 points. Despite all its troubles, which include the absence of the injured Devin Smith and Brian Randle, the yellow-and-blue is a favorite against Ness Ziona, which is battling relegation, currently owning a 7-12 record in the BSL.
“The format of the cup means it is always an open competition,” said Maccabi coach Zan Tabak. “But when your name is Maccabi you have to take responsibility for being the favorite regardless of the season you are having.”
Maccabi captain Guy Pnini is hoping success this week can lift the team ahead of the remainder of its season.
“It is no secret that we have lost a lot of games this season when there was a lot on the line,” he said. “This week will be critical to the remainder of our season. We are our biggest problem. If we play freely we will be difficult to stop, but if we get nervous we will be in trouble.”
Rishon and Ashdod have met once so far this season, with the former winning 77-75 back in November. Rishon has since impressively reached the Europe Cup round of 16, but has lost six of its past seven BSL games to fall to 10-9. Ashdod fell to 9-10 after suffering a surprise loss to Maccabi Kiryat Gat last week.
J’lem crisis deepens with Eilat loss The pressure continues to build at Hapoel Jerusalem after it dropped to its sixth defeat from the past seven games over all competitions on Sunday night, losing 92-83 in overtime at Hapoel Eilat.
Khalif Wyatt had 25 points for Eilat, which improved to 9-11, including 11 in overtime. Bar Timor scored 17 for Jerusalem.
Jerusalem still leads the BSL standings, but fell to 14-5 in Eilat, with the loss coming on the back of the humiliating 108-61 Eurocup thrashing at Gran Canaria, which saw the team end Group H at 0-6.