It's do or die for Hapoel Jerusalem

Hapoel puts its European season on the line when it hosts Lottomatica Roma in 2nd leg of the ULEB Cup quarterfinals.

hapoel j-m 88 (photo credit: )
hapoel j-m 88
(photo credit: )
Hapoel Jerusalem puts its European season on the line Tuesday night when it hosts Lottomatica Roma in the second leg of the ULEB Cup quarterfinals at Malha. The Italians won the first leg last week 92-84 and will look to protect their eight-point lead to book a spot in the semifinals. Jerusalem, the 2004 ULEB Cup champ, knows that it must advance to be able to call this year's run a success, especially with the millions that new team president Arkadi Gaydamak put into building the squad. The winning team will face either Dynamo Moscow or Crvena Zvezda Belgrade in the semifinals. All four teams played each other during the regular season in Group D. Hapoel knows Roma as well as anyone after facing the team three times so far in the 2005/06 season. Hapoel won 94-91 in Rome in November and suffered a 95-84 homecourt loss last month before slipping last week in the Italian capital. Jerusalem led 75-73 in the fourth quarter, but allowed Roma to go on a 13-2 run for the win. "We returned from Rome disappointed and I hope that we've learned from our mistakes," Hapoel coach Erez Edelstein said at Monday night's press conference at Malha. "This game is one of our biggest tests this season." The fiery tactician was clear about how he plans to lead Jerusalem to victory. "Roma has four elite European players - [Dejan] Bodiroga, [David] Hawkins, [Vlado] Ilievski and [Marko] Tusek. If we can disrupt that foursome by limiting one of their scoring, it will help us win. We need big-time players, which we have, and strong defense." Team captain Meir Tapiro added, "The keys are concentration, controlling the pace and strong defense. If we succeed in meeting those parameters, we'll win." Roma is a Euroleague-caliber side with many players and a coach who've spent years at that level. Coach Svetislav Pesic and Bodiroga lifted the 2003 Euroleague crown with Barcelona. It took some time for Pesic to bring this season's squad together, but they have now won six straight in Europe and are tied for fourth in the tough Italian league with a 15-7 record. After arriving at the airport on Monday afternoon, Pesic revealed who his team must stop to win. "In my opinion, Tapiro is Hapoel's best player," he said. "He may not be as attractive as the other players, but he knows basketball." Pesic wasn't sure which team came away from the first leg in better shape. "Eight points is good for us, but also good for Hapoel. We would have rather won by 18." Bodiroga essentially echoed his coach's assessment. "We expect a good, difficult game, but we are ready," he said. Jerusalem arrives after a big second half in Saturday's 97-78 home win over Ramat Hasharon. The team has failed to display consistency this season, but has also met every challenge head on. Hapoel will expect each of its big guns to step up. Regular season MVP Mario Austin will be looked to for inside presence, leading scorer Horace Jenkins for the ability to break down the Roma defense with his electrifying one-on-one play, Roger Mason Jr. for perimeter scoring and Tapiro to bring energy and organization from the bench. Tamar Slay, who has been generally disappointing this season, will have the defensive assignment of stopping Bodiroga, with Matan Naor also being leaned on for defensive matters. The Israeli big men could be x-factors, as reserve center Erez Marckovich erupted for his best game of the season - 18 points and 13 rebounds - in the first game against Roma this season, and Ido Kozikaro has proven time and again over his career that he can make the difference in big games. Hawkins is Roma's top option on offense, though Bodiroga gets most of the balls down the stretch. Historically, these games wind up coming down to the last minutes and this game should be no different. Unfortunately for Edelstein's charges, the visitors have the experience in their favor. However, the piercing din of a sold-out Malha has helped Hapoel bring down several of Europe's best sides over the years and the Jerusalem fans will be hoping for more of the same. On TV: Lottomatica Roma at Hapoel Jerusalem (live at 7 p.m. on Channel 33