Maccabi Tel Aviv faces crucial Top 16 tie against Ulker

Maccabi Tel Aviv will try to bounce back from last week's Euroleague defeat.

maccabi TA 88 (photo credit: )
maccabi TA 88
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv will try to bounce back from last week's Euroleague defeat at the hands of Real Madrid when it hosts Ulker Istanbul on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. No longer the juggernaut that steamrolled opponents on the way to a second straight Euroleague title last season, Maccabi still has the talent to reach the Final Four in what would be the sixth time in seven seasons. However it can ill-afford another defeat in the six-game Top 16. Maccabi is currently placed third in Group E behind Real Madrid and leader Bologna. Ulker is a potentially dangerous opponent due to the amount of talent and experience that coach Ergin Ataman's squad possesses. Among the more familiar names is power forward Mirsad Turkcan, 29, who has faced Maccabi numerous times over the years with Efes Pilsen, Montepaschi Siena and CSKA Moscow. One of the greatest rebounders in Euroleague history, Turkcan has been worth 11.8 points and 9.8 rebounds a night this season. Ibrahim Kutluay, 31, led the Euroleague in scoring earlier in his career, but has lost the consistency that made him a star and helped him reach the NBA for a brief stint. Alongside 25-point games, he's also been a non-factor at times, including last week when he went scoreless in 26 minutes as Ulker lost 87-69 at Climamio Bologna. Swingman Jeff Trepagnier, a college teammate of former Maccabi forward David Bluthenthal, will likely draw the tough defensive assignment of stopping Anthony Parker. Trepagnier is most effective in the open court and has scored in double figures nine times in 15 games this season. His most impressive effort came in Week 12 against Partizan Belgrade, when he scored 18 and set a Euroleague record with 11 steals. Powerful big man Marcus Haislip has used his athleticism to adapt well to the European game in his first season overseas. The 2.07-meter American, previously with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers, has blocked at least three shots in half of his 14 games this season and is second in the league with 1.7 blocks per game. Other players of note are point guard Vrbca Stefanov, who will play for the Macedonian national team against Israel this summer in the Eurobasket qualifying, and Hungarian center Robert Gulyas, who is questionable for the game. The lone question mark for Maccabi is Will Solomon, who sat out Sunday's league game to rest his injured wrist, but is expected to play. If Solomon, Maccabi's top scorer with 15.6 points per game, is not 100 percent, team captain Derrick Sharp will see extended minutes and Parker will see more shots. Last week in Madrid, Parker was forced to carry more of the burden and responded with his best game of the season. He scored a season-high 26 and added five rebounds, four assists and four steals to win the Euroleague player of the week title despite the fact that Maccabi lost by 15. To win, Maccabi cannot rely solely on Parker and will need better games from the rest of the starters as well as some stronger contributions from reserves Jamie Arnold, Kirk Penney and Sharon Shason. Historically Maccabi has had its way with Ulker. The yellow-and-blue boast a 7-3 record, 5-0 at home including a technical win in the 2002 Top 16, when the Turks decided not to travel to Tel Aviv due to the security situation. Last year they met in the Top 16 and Maccabi coasted to a pair of easy wins, 90-59 at home and 83-67 on the road.