Tartu University Rock in Group I and Royal Hali Gaziantep in Group K continue to march unbeaten in the EuroChallenge Last 16 and have become the first two holders of a ticket to the quarter-final play-offs.
While the Estonian and Turkish sides can start contemplating their plans for the knock-out stages, the bottom-of-the-table teams in the same two groups, Gaz Metan Medias and JDA Dijon, now have only a couple of games left in this edition of the competition, following their respective defeats on Tuesday.
There have been several more twists and turns in Week 4 of the EuroChallenge Last 16 and here we take a look at some of its most noteworthy events and figures.
|Remember the name: Vladislav Solopa |
Keep An Eye On:
Gaz Metan Medias will only play two more games in this season's EuroChallenge and Vladislav Solopa seems to be making the best of his last opportunities to show he can hold his own at this level. The forward, who will turn 19 in July, stayed on the floor for a season-high 17 minutes on Tuesday in his team's crucial game at home against Port of Antwerp Giants. Solopa contributed three points and an amazing team-high 10 rebounds, although his effort was not enough to prevent Medias' 81-79 loss. Solopa was included in the All-Tournament Team of the U18 European Championship Division C two years in a row, on both occasions that he represented Moldova in the competition. He turned heads last summer when he scored 50 points in the final of the tournament against San Marino, in a titanic personal duel with Julian Gualtieri, who poured in 54 points. Gualtieri and San Marino won that epic gold medal game, 103-100, but the experience that Solopa has accumulated with the senior team of Medias this season might provide him with the boost he needs to prevail next time.
Blast From The Past:
When Cholet took a 57-40 lead over Krka Novo Mesto midway through the third quarter of their Group J clash, the Slovenian visitors were in desperate need of cool heads that would at least focus on defending the 17-point differential from their win in the reverse fixture at home. Heads -and hands- hardly come any cooler that those of Sani Becirovic, who during his long career with top-flight European clubs and the Slovenian national team has helped keep many a ship afloat in rough waters. The 33-year-old veteran guard poured 15 of his season-high 21 points in the final 11 minutes of regulation to instigate an improbable Krka comeback and right at the fourth buzzer, Croatian forward Zvonko Buljan, a EuroChallenge old hand despite his relatively young age of 27, drilled the three-pointer that tied the scores at 80 and sent the game into overtime. With his mission accomplished, Becirovic went to the bench having contributed six assists and five rebounds to go with his 21 points and Krka's youngsters, with their morale sky-high, took over in the extra period for the Slovenian champions to clinch a good-as-gold 93-88 victory on the road.
Stat Of The Week:
Tsmoki Minsk's 104 points in their triumph over Team TEHO Sport Kotka in Group L action on Tuesday constitutes the best offensive display in this year's EuroChallenge, surpassing the 103 points by Körmend in their win over BC Kyiv during the Regular Season - the Hungarian side in any case had reached that mark in overtime. Minsk converted 41 shots from the floor on Tuesday, tied with Bakken Bears for most field goals made within 40 minutes of play this season. The Belorussians sunk 16 of their 27 three-point attempts, their best percentage from behind the three-point arc, and made 25 of their 44 two-point shots. This was the second time Minsk hit a century in this edition of the EuroChallenge, as they had defeated Kotka 100-64 in the reverse fixture on the road. The aggregate score in the two games was a very flattering 204-137 for the Belorussian champions.
|Thomas Laerke is currently Aarhus' leading scorer with 14.2 points a night |
Surprise Of The Week:
Ural Ekaterinburg arrived in Denmark riding an eight-game winning streak in the EuroChallenge, to take on a team that had yet to pick up a single success in the Last 16 and was staring elimination from contention in the face. Omens could hardly be any better for the Russian visitors, until some hungry bears spoiled their picnic. Young shooting guard Thomas Laerke scored nine points in quick succession after the half-time break to instigate an 11-2 Bakken Bears Aarhus run which enabled the hosts to grab a 66-52 lead at the end of the third. Ekaterinburg threw everything at the Danes in the final frame but Bakken Bears held on and celebrated a 92-84 victory that keeps them alive in the qualification race in Group L, albeit they have to play both their remaining games on the road.
Hitting The Headlines:
An immediate consequence of Ekaterinburg's loss at Aarhus is that now Tartu University Rock have taken over the unofficial title of the hottest team in the competition and have done so in the most convincing of fashions. The Estonian side secured their eighth consecutive win in the EuroChallenge against no less than the reigning champions, Krasnye Krylia. The Samara side set out to prove that their painful loss in the reverse fixture at home was a fluke and jumped to a 43-40 lead at the half-time interval, but Tartu have shown on numerous occasions this season that they are a tough nut to crack. Vilmantas Dilys, one of the Top Statistical Performers this week, came up with a game-high 23 points and led the Estonian hosts to a famous 84-73 win over their Russian guests. The success has not only secured Tartu's passage into the quarter-finals but is also serving as a loud statement of their intentions for the business end of the competition.
Quote Of The Week:
"I will be honest. We are not satisfied at all. We won thanks to our last shots but that is all. This game is the ninth that we played outside of Novo Mesto, and now we just want to go home. We are exhausted and homesick," Krka Novo Mesto head coach Aleksandar Dzikic stated after his team's amazing comeback and overtime victory at Cholet.