|Please note: This week's EuroChallenge Game of the Week will be shown on fibaeurope.com Tuesday at 18:00 CET. The stream will visible on the home page one hour before the game|
While at first glance the Tuesday Group I game between Ventspils and Kataja is far from a do-or-die encounter, the eventual winner might look back at this game in two weeks' time as the deciding moment en route to their qualification to the quarter-finals of the EuroChallenge.
Kataja could take an enormous step with a win by any margin in Latvia, or instead Ventspils could do the same if they defeat the Finns by three points or more, provided that group leaders Pinar Karsiyaka beat Gaz Metan Medias in the other group game of the night, that takes place at the same time in Romania.
The side that achieves the desired outcome on Tuesday will have a strong chance of going through to the play-offs by adding only one more victory in either of their two remaining games in the group, while the losing side, as well as Medias, could find themselves needing to win both their remaining games.
Kataja had to rally from 17 points down to register an 80-78 win over Ventspils the first time the two teams met, during Last 16 Week 1 action.
The Finns completed that comeback thanks to enormous displays by guard Petri Virtanen (22 points) and forward Jermaine Flowers (15 points, seven rebounds, six steals), but also because of the fact Ventspils lost their focus in the second half and committed 21 turnovers, their worst mark in the EuroChallenge this season.
Kataja clinched an easier-than-the-score-suggests 96-91 victory over Forssan Koripojat in the Finnish League on Sunday.
Playing at home, Kataja scored 35 points in a run-and-gun first quarter and held a 15-point lead at the start of the final stanza.
Coach Jukka Toijala gave playing time to 11 of his players and the rotation, along with certain relaxation on the defensive end, allowed the visitors to reduce the gap to five points at the final buzzer.
Ventspils meanwhile were in action on Friday in the Baltic League and took Lietkabelis by storm to pull away 29-9 after the first ten minutes.
They gave their fans reason for concern with a drop in their performance in the second and third quarters, but finished strongly to win 88-64.
Small forward Martins Laksa led all Ventspils scorers with 16 points on 100% shooting from the floor, including four three-pointers.
Center Martins Meiers dominated inside and finished with a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds, while Janis Timma also contributed 15 points.
|Folarin Campbell is leading BK Ventspils in scoring in the EuroChallenge this season|
SEASON SO FAR
Ventspils started their EuroChallenge campaign in dream form to top Regular Season Group C undefeated, with a 6-0 record.
The loss at Kataja on the opening day of Last 16 was their first in the competition and it came just three days after they had seen a 19-game winning streak (between the EuroChallenge, Baltic League and Latvian League) snap unceremoniously, with an unfortunate one-point defeat to Barons Kvartals.
Folarin Campbell averages 13.2 points per-game and leads Ventspils in scoring in the EuroChallenge while Meiers is their top rebounder, with 6.2 boards per-encounter.
The Latvians are better than Kataja in every single statistical category, with only three exceptions.
While Kataja's advantage in blocked shots is so small that it barely makes any difference, the 9.4 steals the Finns average in the EuroChallenge is a definitely superior line to Ventspils' 5.8 per-game, especially in conjuncture with the fact they take much better care of the ball than the Latvians (13.5 to 15.6 turnovers).
In truth, even if the two coaches were never allowed to have access to the stat sheet, the experience of the first game alone would be enough to make the key of the Tuesday encounter absolutely clear in their mind.
Both teams are relatively small and neither can realistically hope to tip the balance to their favour by establishing their dominance in the paint, regardless of Ventspils' advantage in rebound averages.
Instead, they both hassle and play aggressively on defence while risking with a high tempo on offence, and the key will be whether Ventspils can avoid falling victim once again to Kataja's predatory tendency and protect the ball effectively or, at the very least, avoid being at the wrong end of a turnover-fest, as was the case the first time around.
The performance of Flowers on the night might make all the difference in this respect, as he not only leads Kataja in scoring with 17.7 points-per-game but is also the top pickpocket in the EuroChallenge, with 3.45 steals per game, and sets the tone for Kataja's aggressive defence.