Euroleauge: Troubled Mac TA faces Spanish inquisition

Hosts Unicaja Malaga at the Nokia Arena on Thursday.

mac ta basket 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
mac ta basket 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to put one of the most tumultuous periods in its history behind it on Thursday when it hosts Unicaja Malaga at the Nokia Arena. In the last 10 days the team lost a head coach, after Oded Katash resigned following an 18-point defeat to Ironi Ramat Gan, and has also seen its American guard Will Bynum spend three days behind bars for an alleged hit and run incident. The team, however, recorded two important wins in this period, defeating Hapoel Galil Elyon to advance to the State Cup semifinals and stunning Efes Pilsen in Istanbul. New coach Tzvika Sherf will be looking to extend his winning start on Thursday and is hoping the team can build on its last two victories to solidify its position among the top three teams in Group B. "Despite everything that has happened we have managed to meet all our goals in training this week," Sherf said. "If we want to challenge for the top positions in the group we must win. The team needs to perform on defense, be aggressive and also get the job done on the offensive end." Nikola Vujcic, who trained with the team on Wednesday, could return from his two month injury lay-off on Thursday, but he's not expecting to play much. "It's exciting to return after two months," Vujcic said. "I don't now how much I'll play, but I'll do what I can to help my friends." Malaga, which defeated Maccabi by 23 points (93-70) when the teams first met this season, has lost just one in its last nine Euroleague games and has won its last three European encounters by an average 18 points. Carlos Cabezas (11.3 ppg, 2.2 apg) led Malaga with 21 points against Tel Aviv in Spain and has fond memories of the Nokia Arena where he scored a Euroleague career-high 32 points at the start of last season. "It's always a great game when you play against Maccabi," Cabezas told the Euroleague Web site. "We know it's a tough court, although I think their team is not very relaxed, considering that they changed coaches not long ago. It'll be a game in which we have to dig deep. I have good memories of that court, because we've had some good performances there." Marcus Haislip (13.7 ppg, 4 rpg) is Unicaja's top scorer, with Daniel Santiago (11.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) the team's key big man. German Gabriel (9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Boniface N'dong (8.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Carols Jimenez (4.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg) complete the Spaniards' superb frontcourt that will ensure the visitors will have a big advantage under the baskets on Thursday. "This is another tough, important test away from home," Malaga coach Sergio Scariolo said. "Maccabi has had an impressive turnaround in its performance in recent weeks, playing a spectacular game in Istanbul to beat Efes Pilsen last week. Their potential on the court is starting to match their talent." Terence Morris leads Maccabi in points (10.8 ppg), rebounds (6.7 rpg) and blocks (1.6 bpg) and his 16 points and 19 rebounds against Pilsen last Thursday proved beyond any doubt that he is Tel Aviv's best acquisition of the season. With Nikola Vujcic still on the mend, Morris will shoulder most of the responsibility on the paint, especially with the absence of the injured Lior Eliyahu. Bynum (8.2 ppg, 3.3 apg) trained with the team for a second straight day on Wednesday and Sherf is certain he can help the side. "I believe he can play," Sherf said. "He's being supported by everybody at the club and I have no doubt he will give his all and put his troubles aside on Thursday."