ULEB Cup: Hapoel Jerusalem looks to advance

Jerusalem can secure a berth in the elimination rounds of the competition with a victory in Belgium.

hapoel J-m 298.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
hapoel J-m 298.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem faces former coach Sharon Drucker for the first time when it visits Telindus Oostende in Belgium in Game 9 of the ULEB Cup on Tuesday night. Jerusalem (4-4) can secure a berth in the elimination rounds of the competition with a victory in Belgium, but will be up against a team that must win this penultimate game of the group stage to have a realistic chance of advancing to the next round. Drucker, who led Hapoel to the 2004 ULEB Cup title, joined Oostende (3-5) days after the team defeated Jerusalem 88-87 at Malha Arena in November. The Belgians lost their next three continental games and only broke out of the slump in Game 8 when they defeated Alba Berlin in Germany. "Oostende played well in our last meeting and had nothing to lose. They scored 90 points and they deserve respect for what they achieved," Hapoel coach Dan Shamir said on Monday before leaving for Belgium. "We played poorly in that game and it was one of our worst matches of the season. "However, tomorrow [Tuesday] is a new game and we will need to play well to win it." Shamir, who will be attempting to lead his side to its third straight ULEB Cup victory, believes that Oostende has a distinctive advantage with Drucker at its helm. "Sharon knows Hapoel, its players and its style of play and that will be an advantage for Oostende. Their team has changed, but the keys that got them the win in Jerusalem remain the same," he said Oostende, which is only sixth in the Belgian league with nine wins and eight loses, has gone through several changes since its last meeting with Jerusalem, releasing Serbians Vanja Plisnic and Marko Simonovic and losing Belgian guard Guy Muya Muboyayi to the Italian league. Drucker has brought in American Titus Ivory, who he coached at the start of the season at Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, and will be hoping the forward makes a substantial contribution in his European debut for the team. Rashad Wright, who averages 16.9 points per game, scored a season high 25 points in the game in Jerusalem and will once more be the hosts' most dangerous offensive weapon. Lavor Postell (12.6 ppg) and Eric Hicks (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg) are the only two other players who average double figures for the Belgians and they will look to continue their good form from the last ULEB Cup game against Berlin in which they combined for 39 points and 14 rebounds. The hosts' biggest weakness will be under the baskets with Elvir Ovcina (9.6 ppg, 85. rpg) the only legitimate big man in the teams roster. Mario Austin (19.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Jurica Golemac (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg) will need to take full advantage of Oostende's lack of height and will also be helped by new signing Terence Morris who will make his continental debut for Jerusalem. Meir Tapiro (10.6 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.6 rpg) and Timmy Bowers (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) will be their usual dangerous selves from anywhere on the court and should the two bring their A game on Tuesday night Hapoel will have an excellent chance of securing its place in the knockout stages of the competition. Unlike Jerusalem's group in which all the teams are still pushing for a top four place with only two games remaining, the three other ULEB Cup groups are almost as good as decided. Ten teams have already guaranteed themselves a berth in the next round, leaving only two more places up for grabs. In Group A Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius (6-2), Nancy (5-3) and Serbian side Hemofram (5-3) have already advanced, with Gran Caneria (4-4) only needing a single victory to become the fourth side from the group to qualify. The standings in Group B are virtually identical to Group A with Serbians FMP Zeleznik (6-2), BK Ventspils (5-3) of Latvia and Italians Snaidero Udine (5-3) already secured a spot in the next round and Strasbourg (4-4) needing one more victory to guarantee qualification. Unics Kazan (6-2), Real Madrid (5-3), Crvena Zvezda of Belgrade (5-3) and PAOK Thessaloniki (5-3) are all assured of a place in the top four of Group D, with the two remaining group games to decide the exact position in which the teams finish. On TV: Hapoel Jerusalem vs Telindus Oostende (live at 9:30 p.m. on Channel 1)