Hope Springs Eternal

03.02.2011

EuroChallenge

6. Sergio Ramos (Lisboa e Benfica)
Benfica captain Sergio Ramos still sees the glass half-full, despite the heavy defeat in Latvia

If the picture is rosy for all those teams occupying the first and second places in the four groups of the EuroChallenge Last 16, all is not lost for those that are not.

And that applies to teams like Sport Lisboa e Benfica and Dexia Mons-Hainaut, sides that know what it's like to be thrashed in this competition.

Benfica have had to lick their wounds after severe beatings four times in the EuroChallenge this season.

In the Regular Season, they fell 92-71 at Lukoil Academic on November 23, 74-52 at Lugano Basket, 80-64 at Tartu Rock and then in the Last 16, 100-65 at BK Ventspils.

Yet here they are, battling away and still with a pulse.

This is what is so nice about the early stages off a European tournament.

Bad losses do not kill a team.

The Portuguese team is still very much alive in the hunt for a place in the Quarter-Finals after winning at home against Norrkoping this week.

Henrik Vieira's team prevailed 83-75.

Gravelines are 3-0 and at the top of Group K, yet Ventspils, Norrkoping and Benfica are all 1-2 with three games still to play.

The best part for Benfica right now is that they control their own destiny.

If they win their remaining three games, the Portuguese will progress.

Remembering that this team only lost by three points to Gravelines on January 25 in Portugal, there is reason to be hopeful.

Did Sergio Ramos sound downtrodden after Benfica's win over the Dolphins?

"We want to win our next home game, and go away seeking victories in order to get qualified for the next stage," he said.

Positive Thinking & The Karsiyaka Machine

Arik Shivek, meanwhile, is proving to be the master of optimism at Dexia Mons-Hainaut.

The Belgian club is in a more complicated situation because it is third in Group J at 1-2, with Pinar Karsiyaka 3-0 and KRKA Novo Mesto 2-1.

11. David Holston (Pinar Karsiyaka)
David Holston's Karsiyaka are top of Last 16 Group J and with very good reason, according to Dexia coach Arik Shivek

Dexia lost to both, crashing to a 94-71 defeat in Izmir to Karsiyaka this week.

In their first Last 16 game at KRKA, the Slovenians beat Dexia 85-77.

Shivek is so positive that he believes even Antwerp still have a chance of progressing, despite an 0-3 mark in Group J.

"Look, as the situation now looks, everything is open for second place," he said.

"When I say everything, I include Antwerp.

"But for sure, our next game against (KRKA) Novo Mesto will be a crucial game.

"I think if we win against Novo Mesto by nine, then the next two games are going to be crucial for us. But, I say that now, this group is open."

Can you say shell-shocked Shivek?

You don't need to.

The Israeli was anything but shell-shocked after his team's 23-point defeat at Karsiyaka.

He took the defeat in his stride.

"I know the Turkish basketball very well," he said.

"They play typical Turkish basketball, very aggressive."

What was perhaps most insightful in his post-mortem of Dexia's defeat was the analysis of Pinar Karsiyaka, who were so convincing in their win that it would have brought back memories of Turkey's national team run at last year's FIBA World Championship, when they flattened everything in their path before falling to the United States in the gold-medal game.

First of all, there is high-intensity defense and offense, very aggressive on defense," Shivek said.

"They take you completely out of your game, force you to turn the ball over.

"They force you to take bad shots, contest every shot, and offensively they are a very good half-court team.

"If you saw most of their fast breaks, they came from turnovers. It's not a fast-break team, but a good defensive team.

"It's a very good team on offense in the half-court. They are very patient in the half-court."

Shivek also highlighted the fact that his team wasn't the first to go to Izmir and fall by a big margin and won't be the last, either.

"One more thing," he said.

"A team that beats Novo Mesto by 20 and us by 20, it's a good team."

What gave Dexia so much trouble was the same thing that bothered KRKA the previous week.

Karsiyaka's Jovo Stanojevic gave both teams fits.

Against KRKA, the 33-year-old Serbian center had 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Against Dexia, Stanojevic poured in 19 points and corralled nine rebounds.

In each Karsiyaka victory, Stanojevic had six offensive boards.

"They take advantage of their big man who, in a one-on-one at this level, it's hard to stop him," Shivek said.

"Jovo Stanojevic, I know him very well, when he played in Israel (Maccabi Ra'anana), though he wasn't on my team.

"When you have a big man like this and you cannot stop him in one-on-one, you have to do other things on defense - which we did in the first quarter very well.

"But if you are not consistent on that, and they are more consistent than you are when they're on offense, then if it's two guarding him, then someone is open and they know how to find him."

Karsiyaka have given the EuroChallenge much food for thought this year.

The team has young stars like 19-year-old center Furkan Aldemir, who has been out injured, and the pride of Kadiköy, Birkan Batuk, a 21-year-old small forward, and solid American point guard David Holston.

But there is also Stanojevic.

Shivek paid the ultimate compliment to Karsiyaka.

After his team's loss, he said he hoped the Turkish style would rub off on his players.

"If we can learn from this game how to play against this kind of high-intensity defense which we don't usually encounter in the Belgian league, if we take this style of play to our league, our level will go up," he said.

"If we're down with our heads hanging after a defeat like this, we're not learning.

"I think we'll take something from this game."


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