Top 16 Round 3: The pressure ratchets up!
Round 3 of the EuroCup Top 16 starts with a pair of Tuesday encounters to begin the first of the middle-two rounds of the six-game stage. All the visiting teams in Round 3 will host their same opponents next week in Round 4, so this is where the serious battles for playoff implications take place. There is a possibility for first place to change hands in every group, especially in Group H, where the two undefeated teams tied for first place, Unicaja Malaga and Valencia Basket, meet head to head.
Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas survived a late UCAM Murcia surge to snatch a 94-85 victory on Tuesday. The win was its first of the Top 16 to rise to 1-2, which matches Murcia’s record. Kyle Kuric was 4 for 4 from downtown for 18 points and Richard Hendrix posted 13 points and 8 rebounds off the bench for Gran Canaria, which made 9 of 18 threes (50%). Jose Angel Antelo paced Murcia with 19 points and Facundo Campazzo posted 11 points and 8 assists. The visitors trailed by as many as 23 before storming back in the second half to get within 4, but Gran Canaria held on down the stretch. On Wednesday, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar (2-0) hosts Montakit Fuenlabrada (1-1). While Lokomotiv is known for strong defense, Fuenlabrada has excelled with its outside shooting. Lokomotiv has made the fewest free throws (136) and second-fewest three-pointers (65) in the EuroCup, but is also one of only four teams allowing 75 points or less per game and has allowed the fewest rebounds (29.5). Fuenlabrada has made the second-most threes (106) at the second-best shooting accuracy (41.6%), but is worst in the competition at free throws (67.0%s).
FC Bayern Munich (2-0) looks to remain atop this group when Lietkabelis Panevezys (1-1) comes to town. This a game that could well come down to rebounding and taking care of the ball; Bayern has committed the most turnovers in the EuroCup with season (160), but Lietkabelis has made only 2 fewer! On the other hand, while Bayern is the EuroCup’s top-rebounding team (39.2 rpg), Lietkabelis is second-worst among Top 16 teams (31.2 rpg.) in that area. Bayern also stands out defensively for allowing the fewest points (71.4 ppg.) and lowest three-point accuracy (30.9%) to opponents. ratiopharm Ulm (0-2) will seek its first win against Khimki Moscow Region (1-1), which is third in scoring (89.0 ppg.) in the EuroCup. This will be the first ever game between these sides.
Round 3 opened Tuesday with a big game from David Logan to lead Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius to a convincing 63-97 victory over Nizhny Novgorod at CEC Nagorny. Logan scored 30 points on 5-of-10 three-point shooting and added 6 assists and 3 steals for a career-best performance rating of 38 as Rytas collected its first Top 16 victory to improve to 1-2, while dropping Nizhny to the same record. Rytas took charge early in the second quarter and never looked back to lead by 10 at halftime and 22 through three quarters. Petr Gubanov led five Nizhny scorers in double figures with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Zenit St Petersburg routed Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem 101-81 Wednesday at Yubileyni Arena to assume first place in the group. Both teams have identical 2-1 records. Zenit never trailed, but Jerusalem remained within striking distance until midway through the third quarter when the hosts held Jerusalem without a basket for a stretch of more than seven minutes that extended into the fourth quarter. In that time, Zenit outscored Jerusalem 18-1 to open a 23-point lead, from which it cruised to victory. In addition to its marvelous shooting numbers – 29 of 37 on two-pointers (78.4%) and 11 of 22 on threes (50%), Zenit dominated the glass 31-16 had more than double as many assists as its opponent (30-14). Zenit tied its club records for most assists and highest performance index rating (117) in a EuroCup game. Ryan Toolson led the attack with 28 points on 6-of-9 three-point shooting and Stefan Markovic tallied 16 points, 6 assists and 3 steals.
There can be only one team with a perfect record in Group F after Round 3 and it will be either Unicaja Malaga (2-0) or Valencia Basket (0-2). This game could be a chess match as it features two Spanish teams that know each other well and two of the three best defenses in the competition. Valencia is ranked second with just 73.6 points allowed per game, while Unicaja is third at 74.8. Valencia has committed the second-fewest turnovers (12.2) in the EuroCup and is second in both free throws made (172) and accuracy (79.6%). Unicaja led by 1 after three quarters when these teams met earlier this season in the Spanish League, but Valencia scored 30 in the fourth quarter to win. Rebounding will be among the keys when ALBA Berlin (0-2) hosts Cedevita Zagreb (0-2). While ALBA is the worst rebounding team (29.3 rpg.) to reach the Top 16 and allows the most offensive boards in the competition (13.3), Cedevita is ranked second in rebounding (38.4 rpg.). ALBA has also allowed the most points so far (91.9 ppg.), but remains dangerous in part because it leads the EuroCup in three-point (41.7%) and free-throw accuracy.