The three-time champion Valencia Basket enters the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals on a 10-game winning streak, unbeaten at home and having earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
In a game with first place in Top 16 Group G on the line, Valencia Basket rallied from a double-digit deficit to edge a fellow Spanish side Unicaja Malaga 69-72 in Round 5. Unicaja led by 11 points in the first half, had a 50-40 cushion in the third quarter and was still up 69-66 with three minutes left. But Valencia held the hosts scoreless from that point until the final buzzer and registered the win – its ninth in a row at the time – that clinched the first place in the group and allowed it to secure home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Matt Thomas led Valencia that night with 18 points, while Bojan Dubljevic added 15 and 8 rebounds.
Most of the praise for Valencia's success goes to the veterans on this team, and somehow in that conversation the team's top scorer often gets overlooked. Sharpshooter Matt Thomas, 24, is in his first season in the competition, but leads this experienced squad in minutes played. Despite coming off the bench in each of the six Top 16 games, he led the team in scoring in half of those, including both against the biggest rival, Unicaja. The rookie paces the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game this season, ranks fourth in the EuroCup with his 35 three-pointers made and sinks them at a highly- respectable 46.1%. Thomas is also tied for fifth with 90.3% free throw shooting. His contributions have gone a long way in helping Valencia get through the Top 16 as the only undefeated team.
The experience factor
While getting old might not always be a factor that plays into a team's favor, Valencia is a team packed with players over 30 years old whose high basketball IQ makes this team hard to outsmart and even harder to beat. The oldest of them all is a EuroCup legend Rafa Martinez, who will turn 37 years of age two days before Game 1. He is a two-time EuroCup champion and the all-time leader in games played (141), three-pointers made (223) and second in points scored (1,240). Then there is Fernando San Emeterio (35 years old), who played 228 games combined in the EuroCup and the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. Another former EuroCup champ and team leader in assists, Sam Van Rossom (9.7 ppg., 5.4 apg.) is 33, and so is Valencia’s second-best scorer Will Thomas. Forward Aaron Doornekamp (34), and point guard Antoine Diot (30) complete this group of a half-dozen experienced veterans and true professionals. Another player on this roster who belongs with them as far as experience, but not age, is Dubljevic. Still only 27-years old, Dubljevic is in his eighth EuroCup season. The former champion and a two-time EuroCup Rising Star is the competition's career leader in accumulated PIR (1,600), points (1,392), rebounds (613) and offensive rebounds (220). No team has such experience on its side like Valencia.
Why this team can win
If any club knows what it takes to win this competition, it is the three-time champion. History aside, Valencia is one of two teams with just two losses on the season and enters the quarterfinals on a 10-game winning streak. A well-balanced team, Valencia dishes the second-most assists per game (21.6 apg.) while taking care of the ball and committing a EuroCup-low 11.3 turnovers per contest. But probably most important of all, Valencia is undefeated at home in this EuroCup campaign and it holds home-court advantage in the playoffs. In other words, as long as Valencia keeps winning at home, it will lift the EuroCup title for the fourth time.