Israeli clubs face pivotal Eurocup challenges

Hap Jerusalem in Russia to play group leader Khimki; Mac Haifa hopes to remain ahead of Riga

Hapoal Jerusalem in action 370 (photo credit: Oded Karni/BSL)
Hapoal Jerusalem in action 370
(photo credit: Oded Karni/BSL)
Less than 48 hours after a memorable win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem faces arguably its toughest game of the season so far when it visits Khimki Moscow in Eurocup action on Wednesday.
A Yotam Halperin three-pointer with 25 seconds to play gave Jerusalem an 87- 85 win over Maccabi in BSL action on Monday, its first home victory over the yellow-and-blue in five years.
Much of the talk after the game focused on the officiating, with referee Gili Oved keeping Derwin Kitchen’s wayward pass in play to allow Halperin to hit the go-ahead basket and with the officials failing to correctly count Jerusalem’s fouls in the fourth quarter.
However, Hapoel had little time to mull over Monday night’s incidentpacked showdown at Malha Arena, already flying out to Russia early Tuesday morning.
Jerusalem snapped a two-game losing streak in the Eurocup and improved to 4-3 in Group E last week, beating Igokea Aleksandrovac of Bosnia 85-71 at Malha.
Hapoel closed in on qualification for the Last 32 by strengthening its place in the top three, opening a two-game lead over fourth place with three more regular season games to play.
However, it faces an extremely difficult opponent on Wednesday, with Khimki winning its past six games in the competition to lead the group with a 6-1 record.
Moscow beat Hapoel 87-80 in doubleovertime when the teams met at Malha in October, with Khimki leading for much of the night thanks to its proficiency from three-point range, ending the game with 17 three pointers from 44 attempts (38.6%).
“Despite the fact that we have already qualified for the Last 32, we plan to take first place in our group, so we need a win over Hapoel,” said Khimki coach Rimas Kurtinaitis. “The first game in Jerusalem turned out to be very tough and I’m happy we managed to suppress our opponent in the second overtime, although we could have solved our problems earlier.”
Kurtinaitis’s star-studded roster includes Paul Davis (15.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Petteri Koponen (12.3 ppg), Sergey Monia (12.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Marko Popovic (11.4 ppg) among others, but the Lithuanian remains wary of Jerusalem.
“Hapoel has added to its roster ex- Maccabi Tel Aviv forward Lior Eliyahu and he’s had good games for his new club,” he noted. “In comparison with the beginning of the season, Halperin is playing much better. We are ready and have only one goal – to win this game.”
Maccabi Haifa can officially secure its progress to the Last 32 with a victory over VEF Riga at Romema Arena on Wednesday.
Haifa beat MZT Skopje 79-60 at Romema last week to improve to 5-2 and will also all but guarantee itself the runners-up position in Group G should it beat the Latvians.
Haifa will be playing its fourth game in a week, beating Barak Netanya in the BSL on Friday before losing to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on Sunday.
“We know Riga is a good team which is very well coached and has experienced players,” said Haifa coach Danny Franco, who is hoping his players have enough energy left in the tank for Wednesday’s encounter.
“We are facing a difficult challenge and we will need the support of our fans.”