Hapoel Jerusalem faces tough quarterfinal in Rome

Hapoel Jerusalem returns to the site of its biggest victory of the season.

hapoel j-m 88 (photo credit: )
hapoel j-m 88
(photo credit: )
Hapoel Jerusalem returns to the site of its biggest victory of the season Tuesday night when it faces Lottomatica Roma in the Italian capital in the ULEB Cup quarterfinals. The home-and-home series could make or break Hapoel's season, after team president Arkadi Gaydamak gave coach Erez Edelstein an unprecedented budget to build a team to compete at the highest level. Hapoel surprised even itself when it won 94-91 in Rome in Week 3 of the regular season. Horace Jenkins and Roger Mason Jr. scored 22 points each and Erez Marckovich came off the bench for 18 points and 13 rebounds. However, a much-improved Roma turned the tables on the Jerusalemites with a 95-84 win at Malha Arena in early January. David Hawkins led five players in double figures with 23 points. The key for the visitors was their remarkable three-point shooting outburst (14-of-25). Both teams have injury concerns heading into the game. Jerusalem forward Tamar Slay is questionable after turning an ankle in practice last week, while Roma center Obinna Ekezie has missed his team's last games and is doubtful. If Slay cannot go, Hapoel will need to rely on Matan Naor to stop Roma's veteran forward Dejan Bodiroga, arguably the best player of his generation. On the other hand, without Ekezie, the hosts' only true center available is foul-prone reserve Wade Helliwell, who will have trouble corralling Marckovich and Mario Austin by himself. Roma recently reached the final of the Italian Cup before coming up short against Napoli. It has a 14-7 record and is in fifth place in the Italian league. Hawkins (19.3 ppg) and Bodiroga (13.3 ppg) are Roma's first two scoring options and power forward Marko Tusek (12 ppg, 4.8 rpg) will be needed to carry his weight inside. The keys for Jerusalem will be using its inside advantage as well as getting Jenkins to prey on Roma point guard Vlado Ilievski. The return leg will take place at Malha next Tuesday. On TV: Hapoel Jerusalem at Lottomatica Roma (live at 10 p.m. on Channel 1).