Who got the best grades on the first leg of the Semi-Finals?
MUNICH (FIBA Europe Cup) - With the first-leg action of the Semi-Finals in the books, we hand out grades to the four remaining contenders for the FIBA Europe Cup title, based on their performances and expectations.
Bakken Bears (B+)
Slightly late to class, Bakken Bears managed to beat the deadline and handed in their assignment just in time. Although they were not able to steal a win against Sidigas Scandone Avellino, a 75-72 defeat and a three-point deficit can be classified as a job-well-done. Especially when one considers they were down by double figures for most of the second half. A 16-7 edge on the offensive glass was enough to make up for their worse shooting percentages.
Top Performer: Michel Diouf was feeling it all night long and set a new personal season-high with 26 points on 10-of-13 attempts from the field. Even his direct opponent Kyrylo Fesenko sang the Senegalese center praise in the post-game press conference with an unmistakable tone of amazement in his voice.
Homework: Down by three points after the first leg, Bakken Bears will fancy their chances at the Vejlby-Risskov Hallen next Wednesday. But after a no-show in Avellino, attendance in the return fixture will have to be mandatory for DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell (8 points; 4-of-19 FG) if the Danes want to make the upset happen.
Donar Groningen (C+)
Donar Groningen could have left Venice with a slightly better mood had MarQuez Haynes not packed three extra points in their lunchbox before the trip back to the Netherlands. A late triple by the Umana Reyer Venezia point guard pushed the margin between the two clubs to double figures, 82-72. The Dutch champions looked pretty convincing throughout the game, but a poor third quarter (24-14) knocked the wind out of their sails and essentially separated the sides at the sound of the final buzzer.
Top Performer: Bradford Burgess had his best FIBA Europe Cup game for Donar with a 14-point and 11-rebound double-double but the team severely lacked his contributions in the second half, with the American forward collecting all of his points in the first two quarters.
Homework: The team's head coach Erik Braal will need to flick through his old notes before the second game against their Italian opponents. Perhaps, the secret to overturning a 10-point deficit at home lies there. Having won the home legs against U-BT Cluj-Napoca and Mornar Bar by identical 27-point margins, Donar have not had their final say just yet.
Sidigas Scandone Avellino (B)
They might say a win is a win, but winning by three points instead of double figures is hardly the same. Quick math. Sidigas Scandone Avellino were impressive during some stretches of the first leg and led by as many as 14 points in the second half, but are up 75-72 halfway through the tie after Bakken Bears mounted a fourth-quarter fightback. That being said, they managed to get the job done in the Round of 16 and the Quarter-Finals despite first-leg draws against Tsmoki-Minsk and Juventus Utena, respectively.
Top Performer: Jason Rich entered the Semi-Finals averaging 13.3 points per game, but the Avellino scoring ace took his offensive game to another level with a 28-point outburst against Bakken Bears. Having dropped 19 in the first half alone, the American guard finished the night going 10-of-19 from the field with five treys and added 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
Homework: Despite holding a notable size advantage with Kyrylo Fesenko, Shane Lawal and Maarten Leunen, the Italian side could not match the intensity of the Bakken Bears. They lost the battle for rebounds 40-30 and will need to address this specific area before their trip to Aarhus.
Umana Reyer Venezia (A-)
Umana Reyer Venezia have won the home leg by double figures in each round of the Play-Offs and their game against Donar Groningen was no exception. While less convincing than previous victories against Egis Kormend and Nizhny Novgorod, an 82-72 scoreline will be a satisfactory result for coach Walter De Raffaele. They have so far lived up to the hype as the number one favorites to lift the FIBA Europe Cup trophy, as expressed by captains of all rival teams before the Play-Offs.
Top Performer: The mighty MarQuez Haynes proved too much to handle for Donar with the Reyer Venezia point guard posting 12 points, 7 assists and just the lone turnover. He also hit a clutch last-second three-pointer to give his side a double-digit cushion of 10 points before diving head-first into the MartiniPlaza test in Groningen.
Homework: One offensive rebound. That's how many second-chance opportunities Reyer Venezia created on the glass throughout the entire first leg. They did shoot an excellent 55 percent from the field compared to just 38 by Donar, but coach De Raffaele will hope his side can improve just ever so slightly. Shouldn't be too difficult of a task.