State Cup Hoops: Haifa aims to stop J'lem in Cup semi

League champ Holon faces Nahariya in second game of double header.

Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem will look to move within one win of a third straight State Cup triumph when it faces Maccabi Haifa in the semifinals at the Nokia Arena on Monday night. With Maccabi Tel Aviv knocked out in the round of 16, Jerusalem is the firm favorite to win the title and join Maccabi as the only team to take the cup on three consecutive occasions. "We want to make history and win the cup for a third time in a row," Hapoel coach Guy Goodes said on Sunday. "We're ready for the game, but know our only advantage will be in the stands." Some 6,000 Hapoel fans purchased tickets for the sold-out event and will fill more than half of the Nokia Arena. In the first semi of the night, Hapoel Holon faces Ironi Nahariya, which knocked out Maccabi and Bnei Hasharon on course to the last four. Nahariya has never played in a cup final, while Holon has reached the final on five occasions, but has never lifted the cup. "We knocked out Maccabi and Bnei Hasharon and our players showed they are capable of defeating any team," Ironi coach Ya'acov Jino said. "However, my side has also shown in the BSL that it can lose to any team." Nahariya has been playing well recently, but saw its three game BSL winning streak brought to an end last weekend with a disappointing loss against Ironi Ashkelon. Holon beat Ashkelon in the league on Thursday, but has suffered from erratic form lately and coach Danny Franco will be hoping his players wake up on the right side of the bed on Monday. "We've come a long way since the club won the championship at the Nokia Arena last season and the management deserves all the credit for that," Franco said. "The outcome of the cup depends on your performance on a given night." Only Chris Watson remains from Holon's championship winning roster and he's confident that this season's team can also claim a title. "It won't be easy against Nahariya, but we're very motivated," Watson said. After Nahariya and Holon finish battling for their place in the final, Haifa will take on Jerusalem, looking to reach the final for the first time in 24 years. Pini Gershon was Haifa's coach when it played in the 1985 cup final and current coach Avi Ashkenazi believes his side is capable of finally ending the club's long final drought. "We're not content with just reaching the semifinals. We want to take another step forward," Ashkenazi said. "Jerusalem is an excellent team, which has achieved a lot in the past. We're doing our best to make a perfect preparation for the game, but everyone knows how much Doron Perkins' injury hurt us." Perkins, who has been Haifa's best player this season, was injured last Saturday and any hope Maccabi has of reaching the final depends on the team's ability to cope without its star playmaker. "We need to be very focused against Haifa because they have a very good team and are very aggressive on defense," Jerusalem guard Moran Rot said.