|Riccardo Cervi is a bright young prospect for the future of Italy's inside game|
Three teams have maintained their perfect records following the third week of action in the EuroChallenge Last 16 and enjoy the solitude at the top of their respective groups.
Tartu University Rock, Royal Hali Gaziantep and Ural Ekaterinburg all stand at 3-0 as we reached the mid-way point of the Last 16 and all three teams have taken a first giant step towards qualifying to the quarter-final play-offs of the competition.
EuroChallenge action resumes on 11 February, with the second half of the Last 16 phase.
In the meantime, we take a look back at some noteworthy events and figures of Week 3.
Keep An Eye On:
Any team in the world could use a 2.13m excellent shot-blocker, but probably no side is in more desperate need of such an intimidating presence in the paint than the Italian national team and the Azzurri head coach Simone Pianigiani must be eagerly monitoring every step of Reggio Emilia born-and-raised Riccardo Cervi. The 22-year-old center, who had helped Italy conquer silver at the U20 European Championship in 2011 and was named best young player in LegaDue the following season, suffered a setback in the summer of 2012 as he had to undergo major knee surgery. Fortunately, he has made a strong recovery and has since been logging good minutes this season in both the Serie A and the EuroChallenge and on Tuesday night he came on and made life difficult for Krka Novo Mesto on every possession, as he blocked four shots to go with his four points and his game-high 10 rebounds. Krka head coach Aleksandar Dzikic felt compelled to tip his hat to the Italian young center after the game: "I think that Riccardo Cervi deserves a mention, he completely changed the fortunes of the game, making it impossible for us to score in his presence," Dzikic said.
|Still got it: Belarus international Pavel Ulyanko might be approaching the mid-thirties hump, but this season at Minsk, he has shown he can still scrap it out with the younger crowd|
Blast From The Past:
Tsmoki Minsk had already sealed the win at Bakken Bears Aarhus when veteran forward Pavel Ulyanko made the extra effort to block Morten Sahlertz's lay-up attempt right at the final buzzer, preserving the seven-point margin of victory (83-76) for his team. Less than three months shy of his 35th birthday, the Belarusian international knows better than most that a point differential might end up proving important, even if Minsk are right now top of the group L standings with a 3-0 record. Ulyanko, who finished the Tuesday game with 10 points, four rebounds and three assists is still a perfectly reliable option for Minsk, as he spends 20 minutes on the floor on average and contributes 6.4 points, four rebounds and 1.4 assists per encounter. Taking into consideration that he averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists for Belarus in last summer's EuroBasket 2015 1st Qualification Round, do not be surprised if he returns for one more campaign in the national team jersey in a few months.
Stat Of The Week:
Tartu University Rock shot a whopping 61.7% from the floor on Tuesday (23-of-36 two-pointers; 14-of-24 three-pointers) as they enjoyed a 97-67 rout over Gaz Metan Medias in Group I action. This level of shooting accuracy is by far the best we have seen by any team since the start of the Last 16, albeit not the highest field goal percentage during the entire EuroChallenge season, as Krasnye Krylia had gone 62.1% from the field in their win against Oradea in November. Tartu's figure however is even more remarkable if one considers they started the Tuesday clash on 1-for-5 shooting and were 7-of-17 at the end of the first quarter, which means they converted an amazing 30-of-43 of their shots in the remainder of the encounter.
Also this week, Ural Ekaterinburg brought down 54 rebounds (17 offensive) as they dominated inside to claim an 86-75 win away at Team TEHO Sport Kotka. Krka have been the only other team to corral 54 boards this season and, interestingly, they did so in their win over Ekaterinburg in the Regular Season premiere, which is the only loss of the Russian side so far as well as the only game in which they lost the battle on the glass.
|Ural Ekaterinburg head coach Oleg Okulov is remaining modest, despite his team's overwhelming success|
Hitting The Headlines:
In a clash between two teams that are having a quite bumpy ride this season, Szolnoki Olaj sent a timely reminder that the best way to overcome problems is by getting wins. The Hungarian side came out guns blazing on the road against Cholet to jump to a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter, leaving their French hosts with a mountain to climb the rest of the way and ultimately clinching a perhaps easier than they expected 85-70 victory. Péter Lóránt and Justin Holiday each poured in 20 points for Szolnoki, who are now in an advantageous position in Group J, despite an emphatic loss at Reggio Emilia in their Last 16 opener.
Quote Of The Week:
"Our team is very hard to scout because we aren't playing in the major [domestic] league," offered Ural Ekaterinburg head coach Oleg Okulov in a remarakable display of modesty following his team's win 86-75 win at Team TEHO Sport Kotka. Whether Ekaterinburg sit atop Group L with a perfect 3-0 record because they are using the element of surprise and an apparent lack of scouting DVDs to their favour or, because they are simply a very good team, remains to be seen when they meet the same opponents in the reverse fixtures of the second half of the Last 16.