The winningest team in EuroCup history is in position to add to its well-stocked trophy case. Valencia has dominated the EuroCup like no other with three previous crowns and it is now making its fifth appearance in the finals, both of which are competition records. The winning tradition starts at the top, with Coach Pedro Martinez, who guided Joventut Badalona to the Korac Cup in 1990 in his first head coaching gig and later took Akasvayu Girona to the 2008 ULEB Cup Championship Game. Rafa Martinez, who is on the cusp of becoming the EuroCup’s all-time leading scorer, won the competition twice, including in 2014, when he was joined by current teammates Bojan Dubljevic, Romain Sato and Sam Van Rossom, all of whom started both games in the finals. So this is a team and a club that knows about winning in the bright stage.
Valencia started the season like a championship contender should with a 95-58 demolition of ratiopharm Ulm, but suffered a rare home loss already in Round 2 at the hands of Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, 77-81. What does a championship-caliber team do when faced with adversity? Get back to work! And that’s what Valencia did by shaking off a series of injuries and winning its six remaining regular series games to finish atop Group D. Valencia was made to work hard by claiming a 2-point win in Jerusalem and a 3-point victory at Unuon Olimpja before edging Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in the regular season finale on Antione Diot’s buzzer-beating three.
Despite the upgrade in competition that came in the Top 16, Valencia only got better. First came an 86-89 road win at Cedevita Zagreb and after disposing of ALBA Berlin at home, Valencia swept the middle rounds against its future opponents in the finals, Unicaja Malaga. In the second half of the Top 16, Valencia’s three wins came by an average margin of victory of 21 points, which showed just how ready it was for the quarterfinal duel with Khimki Moscow Region. Valencia made good use of its home-court advantage by claiming an 88-82 Game 1 victory behind big games from Fernando San Emeterio and Dubljevic, but the game in Russia saw the team’s 13-game winning streak come to an end. Valencia fell apart in the fourth quarter and suffered its worst loss of the season, 98-74. Just like before, Valencia answered any doubters with a resounding 92-76 win in Game 3 behind a Dubljevic double-double.
Life would not get any easier in the semifinals against Jerusalem. Valencia led by only 2 points with seven minutes remaining at home in Game 1, but San Emeterio helped his team to a strong finish and an 83-68 victory. The trip to the Israeli capital looked promising when Valencia went on a third-quarter tear to take a 4-point led into the fourth quarter, but this time Jerusalem dominated late for a 79-66 win. Like in the previous round, Valencia had its back to the wall and like before, it knew who to turn to. San Emeterio led six Valencia scorers in double figures with 15 points and Dubljevic added 14 points and 7 rebounds in a 90-75 rout. San Emeterio was named MVP for both Games 1 and 3 of the semifinals and Valencia was back in familiar territory, one step away from EuroCup glory.