ULEB Cup: Hapoel hopes 15-point lead is enough

Jerusalem is at Besiktas to play Turkish side in last 32 of ULEB Cup Tuesday.

Hap jlem ULEB 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hap jlem ULEB 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem's play this season has taken the word erratic to new extremes. The team's inconsistency is nothing short of remarkable and on any given night its performances seem to range from the awful to the outstanding. Jerusalem hasn't managed to put together two good displays this season, but has, however, come up with the goods when it counts most. In the State Cup semifinal and final, and in crucial ULEB Cup games, coach Dan Shamir's men played better than the sum of their parts and pulled-out big wins time and again. On Tuesday in Istanbul, Jerusalem faces Besiktas JK in yet another game that will determine how the side's 2007/08 season will be looked back on. Jerusalem takes a 15-point cushion into the second leg of the ULEB Cup last 32 in Turkey thanks to its 88-73 victory two weeks ago at the Malha Arena and is in prime position to extend its European campaign by at least three more weeks. Despite the margin of victory at Malha, Shamir is adamant that his side's first leg cushion is meaningless until the very end of the return leg. "We've been in this situation before and you have to approach these games with a certain attitude," Shamir said on Monday. "The players understand that a 15-point margin means nothing until the last few minutes. In the last couple of minutes you start to calculate if you're ahead or behind overall, but not before. "I don't know how the encounter will develop, but we must defend well because that's the only way we'll progress." Hapoel, which out-rebounded the Turks 39-22 at Malha, led by as many as 20 points during the first leg after pulling ahead with a 30-16 second quarter. A poor finish, however, allowed Besiktas to cut the deficit by five points in the final minutes. "We played quite well in the first leg and they were far from their best," Shamir said. "We won by 15 points, which was more than we had hoped for ahead of the game. Nevertheless, it's going to be very difficult to advance to the next round as Besiktas is a very strong team." Besiktas had won all 10 of its games in the competition prior to the last 32 encounter in Jerusalem and coach Ergin Ataman remained defiant after the first leg despite the margin of defeat. "We'll need to win by 16 points and it won't be easy, but we can do it," the coach said after being humbled by Hapoel. "We didn't play well in the first leg, missed too many shots and we'll have to do better in the second leg. We allowed 88 points and that's too much for us. If we want to qualify we need to play better defense." Rick Apodaca (10.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg) led Besiktas with 23 points and five rebounds at Malha, with Preston Shumpert (17.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg) the team's only other player in double-figures, scoring 18 points. Kaya Peker only managed five points and two rebounds against Hapoel, well below his averages of 15.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Jerusalem also did well to keep Christian Dalmau (11.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.9 apg) and Sandro Nicevic (11.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg) under wraps in the first leg, with the two only combining for 10 points and six rebounds in Jerusalem. Jamie Arnold (20.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg) was his usual outstanding self in the first leg, scoring 28 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, but the key for Hapoel on Tuesday will be the play of Guy Pnini (10.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Dror Hajaj (6.5 ppg, 4.3 apg), who scored 20 and 12 points respectively at Malha. "It's difficult not to enter the game thinking of our margin from the first leg," Pnini said on Monday. "You always have the margin in your head, but it's not healthy to keep thinking of it. We need to do as Dan said and only think of the margin in the fourth period. "We must play very smart on Tuesday and stick to our game plan. Besiktas is a very dangerous team, especially at home. The most important thing is to be strong in the head and not fall apart even if we're down."