By Jeff Taylor
Teams heading in different directions meet head-on when Turkey take on Slovenia at Madrid’s Telefonica Arena tonight.
Twelve months on from a surprising run to the quarter-finals at the FIBA World Championship in Japan, Turkey were beaten twice by Croatia in the Efes Pilsen World Cup preparation tournament and then promptly lost consecutive games to Lithuania and Germany in EuroBasket’s Group C in Palma.
Thankfully, Bogdan Tanjevic’s team still had the Czech Republic on their schedule and they dismissed them in order to reach the qualifying round in the Spanish capital.
|Okur must be at his best for|
Turkey to trouble Slovenia
Slovenia, who failed to advance beyond the group stages in Japan last year, have won three consecutive games in the competition, beating Italy, Poland and France.
Last Time Out: Slovenia squeezed past France 67-66 while Turkey defeated the Czech Republic 80-72.
Key Match-up: Mehmet Okur v Radoslav Nesterovic. Okur is coming off an all-star season with the Utah Jazz. After a nightmare five-point game effort in a blowout loss to Germany, he finally got back on the right track with a double-double of 16 points and 10 boards against the Czechs. Nesterovic, a journeyman NBA center who is currently part of the Toronto Raptors’ international brigade, was important in Slovenia’s first two wins but when he got ejected in the third quarter of their triumph over France, Slovenia actually played better and came back from double-digit deficits to win.
Key Stat: Hidayet Turkoglu is averaging better than 18 points a game for Turkey but the team is pouring an average of just 66 – third worst at the EuroBasket.
X-Factor: Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova erupted for a big game against Australia last year and is due for a big game.
Speaking Out: “Our players have been putting their hearts on the court, so I’m really satisfied so far” – Ales Pipan, Slovenia coach.