After defeating last-placed Hapoel Gilboa Galil 86-84 in local league action on Sunday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv (16-13, 6th place) are in France to play against last-placed ASVEL Villeurbanne (8-12, 18th place) in EuroLeague action tomorrow night (21:00 IST / 15:00 EDT). While Maccabi is coming into the game on the back of six consecutive wins across all competitions, Villeurbanne’s last EuroLeague win came nearly two months ago, a 91-77 win against Fenerbahçe on January 26th.
“We’re in a good position, you could say that we’re only depending on ourselves, but it doesn’t mean that this is going to be an easy game,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said. “I don’t feel like we’re favorites and we cannot feel that way. I know the feeling and I don’t want the players to feel this way. It’s true that there’s the table and we’re a better team than Villeurbanne, but there are no easy away games.”
An area in which Maccabi has improved recently – and which will be vital for their chances at making the playoffs and going to the final four – is their rebounding. For the season Maccabi is averaging 35.1 rebounds, an average which was aided by accumulating a total of 47 rebounds last week.
Maccabi forward Jarell Martin explained the recent improvement in the team’s rebounding: “Attacking the glass – coach has been on us about attacking the offensive boards and defensively just face guarding and boxing out and just crashing the boards hard.”
Maccabi will need to crash the boars particularly hard tomorrow night, as they will be up against 7’ 3” Youssoupha Fall at center for Villeurbanne. While he has a modest averages of 9.8 points and 6.3 rebounds for the season, he boasts a season-high of 18 rebounds from a 75-74 away win against Barcelona and only last week had a 13-point 12-rebound double-double in an 82-86 loss to Panathinaikos last week.
“He’s a good player and it’s going to be physical with him,” Maccabi center Josh Nebo, who has averaged 12.5 rebounds over the last two games, said of the forthcoming battle against Fall. “I’ll try not to allow him to get too many deep catches around the basket, try to make him finish as far away from the basket as possible. For me personally, I’m always confident in my abilities.
Fall also had an 11-point 11-rebound double-double against Maccabi when these teams played against each other in Tel Aviv back in October. That was a game in which Maccabi started slowly, with Villeurbanne getting out to a 21-15 lead after 10 minutes. However, Maccabi took a 42-41 lead into halftime, followed by a 26-11 third quarter to put the game out of reach for the French team, ultimately winning 88-69.
That October game was in round 4 of the EuroLeague season, when it was impossible to know what the picture was going to look like at the end of March. Now, one team is finishing the season strongly while the other knows that its season will end after the completion of round 34. However, the hosts are giving no indication that they’re going to give up on the remaining games in the season.
“For us, I think the only thing is not to miss up the party,” Villeurbanne forward David Lighty said. “We don’t have any chance to be in the playoffs but we have to enjoy the moment, enjoy the game in front of our fans and we’ll see. And take this game as a chance to improve again for the future.”
For Maccabi, on the other hand, this game is anything but a party.
“We’re taking a very serious approach to this game, we’re not underestimating them because of their record,” Nebo said. “They’re a good team and they’re good players – it’s going to be a fight for us.”
Katash will be hoping that his players can bring their A game to this fight so that they can bring themselves one step closer to the playoffs: “We’re in a good situation and we’re only dependent on ourselves, we’re playing better and we know what we want from ourselves. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity here.”