State Cup semis: Mac TA vs. Ashdod, J’lem vs. Haifa

Ashdod has won four of its past five BSL games since losing by 32 points to Maccabi.

 Blatt370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Despite missing the injured Lior Eliyahu, Maccabi Tel Aviv will be a massive favorite to advance to the State Cup final when it faces Maccabi Ashdod at Nokia Arena on Tuesday, while Hapoel Jerusalem will look to reach its first final in five years when it comes up against Maccabi Haifa in the second semifinal of the night.
Tel Aviv breezed past Hapoel Holon in Sunday’s quarterfinal, but it will be without star forward Eliyahu between 10 days and three weeks after he twisted his knee badly during the first half.
Eliyahu left the court in tears after crashing to the floor and agonizingly clutching his left knee, but an MRI confirmed that he only strained his knee ligaments and didn’t suffer a tear, which could have ended his season and crushed Maccabi’s lingering hopes in the Euroleague.
However, he will miss Tuesday’s semi against Ashdod, which beat Maccabi Be’er Ya’akov of the National League 104- 88 in the quarterfinals, and Tel Aviv coach David Blatt is hoping the rest of his roster can step up to cover for his loss.
“We have been very dominant in the league this season, but the cup has a life of its own and every game is crucial,” said Blatt. “To play Ashdod in the semis is never easy and it has become even more difficult due to Lior’s injury. However, we will be ready and we really want this win because this competition means a lot to us.”
Ashdod has won four of its past five BSL games since losing by 32 points to Maccabi, with the mid-season additions of Mardy Collins and Austin Freeman revitalizing the roster.
“We made changes to the team and as soon as everyone settled we also began to play much better,” said Ashdod coach Ofer Berkowitz, who will guide his team against Maccabi in the cup semis for the second time in three years. “We overcome a poor start to the season and the effects of Operation Pillar of Defense and now we have a strong united team which is ready for the semifinal.”
Despite his team’s recent form, Berkowitz refused to asses his side’s chances against Tel Aviv.
“We need to give our all and enjoy the night,” he said. “To come out and make statements ahead of a game like this wouldn’t be smart on our behalf.”
Hapoel Jerusalem recorded one of its best performances of the season in the 86- 70 humbling of Hapoel Eilat in the quarterfinals at Malha Arena on Saturday, and has plenty on the line on Tuesday after failing to reach either the cup or league final over the previous four seasons.
“Jerusalem should always be a part of the big finals,” said coach Sharon Drucker.
“Haifa is clearly a top team, but we need to focus on our own play. We are entering the encounter in good form and we need to continue to display our best defensive play throughout the game.”
Jerusalem crashed to a 17-point BSL defeat to Ashdod just five days before its impressive showing against Eilat, but coach Drucker is confident his players can avoid a return to their erratic ways and come up with the goods once more on Tuesday.
“Whenever we have had our backs against the wall the guys have been there,” he said. “We trust our guys and they will be there on Tuesday and we will do this.”
Haifa has lost three of its past four BSL games, but it showed signs of a return to its promising early season form in the 21-point thrashing of Bnei Herzliya in the quarters.
“We played Jerusalem one time this season and held them to 140 points, so hopefully we do a little better guarding them this time,” joked Haifa coach Brad Greenberg, referring to his team’s 103-92 BSL defeat at Malha two months ago.
“I think it is exciting for both teams to square off against each other. I know this is a special event and I just feel blessed to be part of it.”