Eight In, Eight More To Come

17.12.2010

EuroChallenge

9. Edwin  Draughan (Lugano Basket)
Edwin Draughan's Lugano Basket are the surprise package of the EuroChallenge Regular Season

There is much to be decided next week when the EuroChallenge Regular Season draws to a close.

What is not to be determined, however, is the fate of eight teams in the competition.

Spartak St Petersburg, Lukoil Academic, Barak Netanya, BK Prostejov, Krka Novo Mesto, Lokomotiv Kuban, Antwerp and Pinar Karsiyaka are all headed to the Last 16.

That means seven different countries, from as far east as Russia and as far west as Belgium, are still in the hunt for the title.

Eight more spots are still up for grabs.

This year's EuroChallenge has proved to fiercely competitive, and unpredictable.

The teams that are moving on to the next round, and those that still have a good chance of doing so, understand that every second of every game matters.

Exhibit A: Barak Netanya.

So what if the Israeli club lost its Group D game at Norrköping Dolphins this week to fall to 3-2.

The result was 70-64 - a margin of six points and not seven - which gave them the vital +1 goal differential against the Dolphins in a potential tie-breaker.

That meant that Netanya had still punched their ticket to the next round.

Adrian Banks had made a lot of baskets this season but maybe his most important two points came in Tuesday's loss because with 43 seconds to go in Sweden, the EuroChallenge's leading scorer knocked down a jumper that accounted for the last points of the game.

The unpredictability factor?

Exhibit B: BC NN.

Who would have given BC NN a chance to beat red-hot Szolnoki Olaj, especially after four straight defeats?

But BC NN won for the first time, overcoming Szolnoki Olaj 76-62, an outcome that prevented the Hungarian outfit from clinching a Last 16 place, something they would have done with a win because Spartak had defeated BCM Gravelines in the other Group A game.

Next week, therefore, the winner of Gravelines' home game against Szolnoki Olaj will advance from Group A with Spartak.

Unpredictability?

Exhibit C: Türk Telekom.

The Turkish club had also been 0-4 but they spoiled Tuesday night for Belgacom Liege.

The Belgians could have gone alone at the top of Group D but lost 83-79 at home to the Beko Basketbol Ligi team.

Similar to Türk Telekom, KK Zagreb only had pride to play for after beginning the competition with four successive defeats.

The pride factor was enough for the Croatian team to come out all guns blazing on Wednesday against Krka.

They led for much of the contest before falling 78-75 at home, which sealed Krka's place in the Last 16.

Then there is...

Exhibit D: Lugano Basket.

They sprung a big surprise in Switzerland, not just beating a Sport Lisboa e Benfica side that had won three of four games, but thrashing them, 74-52.

Sports Lisboa e Benfica need to forget this game quickly as they travel to a dangerous Tartu Rock in Estonia, a side that could very easily win and open the door for Lugano to advance to the Last 16, provided of course they prevail at Lukoil Academic in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Joe Whelton, the Lugano coach, felt the 20 assists his side had showed they played as a team, and the 14 offensive rebounds demonstrated they'd played hard.

He was also very pleased with his players' concentration as they only turned the ball over 12 times.

The balance in the competition is evident in Group G where BC Zadar, Apoel Nicosia and ETHA Encomi all have a chance to advance despite possessing 2-3 records.

One also has to appreciate what it's been like in Group H where heart-stopping game after heart-stopping game has been played this season and one team, Entente Orleanaise, is eliminated despite four straight defeats by a combined 12 points!

A frustrated Orleans coach Philippe Herve tried to take some consolation from the early exit.

"We have a good team that can play against all teams," he said, "because it is always the same scenario - a close game."

Stand By Your Man

Also in Group H, Dexia Mons-Hainaut center Peter van Paassen repaid the faith shown in him by his coach, Arik Shivek.

Van Paassen had struggled for a couple of weeks and even heard boos from the home fans, which led to Shivek appealing to the fans to get behind his Dutch center.

This week in an 82-79 triumph at SLUC Nancy, Van Paassen had a season-high 17 points on seven of eight shooting from the floor and a perfect three of three night from the line.

The theme of the week has been unpredictability, though, so with that in mind ...

Exhibit E: BC Khimik

On Thursday, two sides played for the second time this week in the EuroChallenge when BC Khimik travelled to Israel and faced Maccabi Haifa.

On Tuesday, Haifa had won at Khimik, 81-77, to drop them to 1-3.

Khimik trailed in the second game 67-55 with 5:54 to go when they suddenly came to life.

Oleksandr Kolchenko sparked an 11-0 run with a jump shot and after a basket by teammate Curtis Millage, Kolchenko buried a three-pointer.

Voila!

Khimik were off to the races.

Millage drove in for a go-ahead lay-up to make it 70-68 and though Maccabi Haifa split a pair of free-throws to close to within one, a three-point play and then a jumper by Toni Bizaca came at the beginning of an 8-0 spurt that put the Ukraine team in front at 78-69.

Zoran Martic's side then held on over the last 25 seconds for a seven-point triumph.

All four teams in Group B - BK Ventspils and Maccabi Haifa (both 3-2), and BC Khimik and Deutsch Bank Skyliners (both 2-3) - have a chance to reach the Last 16.


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