Hammer time for Nanterre in chase for historic double
PARIS (FIBA Europe Cup/French Cup) - Nanterre 92 have put the FIBA Europe Cup two-game battle with Elan Chalon on pause, shifting their focus to the French Cup for the weekend, where they will face off against Le Mans Sarthe in the gold-medal duel in Paris on Saturday.
Presented with a chance to go for a historic double, Pascal Donnadieu's side started their week-long marathon of decisive games by drawing the first leg of the FIBA Europe Cup Final 58-58 in Chalon-sur-Saone, setting themselves up nicely for the return leg at home next Tuesday.
However, before they can start worrying about finishing the deal against Elan Chalon at the Palais des Sports Maurice Thorez, Nanterre will want to take care of business against the Erman Kunter-coached Sarthe club and snatch up the domestic trophy first.
With three Final appearances under their belt in the French Cup in 2007, 2013 and 2014, Nanterre managed to go the whole way only once, with the third time proving the charm for the green-and-whites from the Parisian suburbs.
"Of all challenges Nanterre have encountered in recent years, this is really the most difficult one in our history," coach Donnadieu, who has been coaching the club for nearly two decades, told Le Parisien.
Having defeated STB Le Havre, SLUC Nancy Basket, JDA Dijon and Antibes Sharks enroute to the title-decider this year, Nanterre are considered slight favorites ahead of the French Cup clash, but the four-time French Cup winners Le Mans will be one tough cookie to beat.
Although they are currently outside the Play-Off picture in 11th place in the LNB Pro A, Le Mans did have a nice run in the Basketball Champions League, winning their Regular Season group before being eliminated by Dinamo Sassari in the Round of 16.
Le Mans are also the current French Cup holders after winning the competition in 2016.
"We are determined and concentrated. For most players, this is the most exciting week of our careers. Above anything else, we must be solid mentally," said Hugo Invernizzi who had a good performance in the first of three big games, scoring 12 points against Elan Chalon.
Will the mentally and physically taxing schedule catch up with Nanterre?
"Since October, we have basically played every three days. The players are a bit worn down, but the fact we're playing in the Final will give them energy," Donnadieu's assistant Franck Le Goff said.
It is true that while the Nanterre coaching staff and players are busy preparing for the French Cup duel against Le Mans, their FIBA Europe Cup rivals Elan Chalon will have a couple of extra days of rest and more time to work on their game plan for the return leg in Nanterre. On the other hand, there might not be a stronger motivating force than an opportunity to snatch up two trophies in a space of a week.
On the verge of a historic double, there are so many — too many, perhaps — parameters in play for Nanterre, that what it might essentially come down to is rolling out the ball, making a certain leap of faith and seeing how it all turns out.