Meeting for the first time ever, and traveling more than 4,000 kilometers to do so, Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas and Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir will look to extend their best-ever seasons in the competition and make their way to a place they have never been before – the Eurocup Semifinals.
Hard to beat
In its ninth campaign in the competition, Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas is enjoying its best-ever Eurocup season. Head coach Aito Garcia Reneses’s men have won 17 out of 18 games this season, and five in a row after opening the season with a 12-0 record. Gran Canaria has reached the quarterfinals once before, in the 2009-10 season, when it was ousted by Panellinios. Tomas Bellas and Oscar Alvarado are two players still left on the roster from that team, and now will have a chance to help Gran Canaria battle for a historic semifinal berth. Meanwhile, Pinar Karsiyaka Izmir is undefeated in eight consecutive games. Team stormed through the Last 32 with a perfect 6-0 record, and it won each of those games by at least a seven-point margin. Its unbeaten streak continued with a tie in eighthfinals Game 1 on the road against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius, and 97-81 win on home floor last week to clinch a spot in its first-ever Eurocup quarterfinals.
Both teams rank among the Eurocup’s best five in scoring this season. Pinar Karsiyaka is fifth with 83.1 points on average, but increased its production in the second half of the season. It led the eighthfinals with 89 points and 21 assists per game, an had impressive Last 32 campaign when it ranked third in points (89.7), second in assists (22) and fourth in three-point shots made (10.8). Defensively, Karsiyaka is the best team in the competition at forcing turnovers, 16.1 per game. Bobby Dixon leads the team with 16.5 points and 5.2 assists, but it was Jon Diebler who stepped up in the eighthfinals with 21 points per game, and won eightfinals Game 2 MVP honors. Juan Palacios (13.9), D.J. Strawberry (11.2) and Kenny Gabriel (9.4) also present big scoring threats. Gran Canaria has had little trouble scoring points this season, ranking fourth with 84.3 per game, with exceptional and Eurocup-best 43.8% shooting from downtown for the entire season. The team’s overall performances led to an average performance index rating of 101.9, second best in all of Eurocup. In a balanced offense, only Kyle Kuric (14.1) and Brad Newley (13.0) average double figures in scoring, but seven more of their teammates contribute with at least 6 points per night.
Connecting from long range has been Karsiyaka’s big strength in the second half of the season. After shooting an impressive 47.1% from three-point range during the Last 32, Karsiyaka continued lighting it up from downtown in the eighthfinals, hitting 23 triples (ranks first) on 41.8% accuracy (ranks second). Backcourt duo of Bobby Dixon and Jon Diebler each hit 54 triples so far in the competition, combining to produce 6 three-pointers per game over the course of the season – more than any other pair of teammates in Eurocup. In the past two weeks, Dixon went 8-for-17 while Diebler was 9-for-16, and these 17 triples between them are more than what 13 other entire teams managed to hit in their eighthfinals series.
The oldest and the tallest
GGran Canaria point guard Albert Oliver will turn 37 years of age in June, and he is the oldest player left in the competition. Coming off the bench he contributes with 7.8 points and 3.7 assists, while the starting point guard Tomas Bellas averages 6.9 points and 5.1 assists. A consistent production from two point guards, and the veteran presence in the backcourt that comes with 104 Eurocup games between them, provide one of the major reasons of Gran Canaria’s success. In the paint, Walter Tavares and his 2.20 meters make Gran Canaria’s center the tallest player in the quarterfinals, and he uses his size – and athleticism – to rank first among Eurocup shot-blockers (1.88) and fourth in rebounds (8.1). Tavares will have an interesting matchup in the paint against center-less Karsiyaka squad, whose tallest forward stands at 2.08 meters.
Las Palmas, on the Canary Islands in Spain, where the first leg will take place, is two time zones away from Izmir, Turkey where Karsiyaka will host Herbalife Gran Canaria in quarterfinal Game 2 seven days later. The two cities are more than 4,000 kilometers apart. The only previous time this Eurocup season teams needed to travel such distance for a game was when Gran Canaria clashed with Banvit in the Last 32. That trip to Bandirma, Turkey resulted in Gran Canaria’s only loss so far this season. Now they travel to Karisyaka Arena where local fans create one of the noisiest atmospheres in all of Europe, and have unofficially broken a record for loudest cheering at an indoor event in the eighthfinals against Lietuvos Rytas. The crowd roar achieved 126.5 decibels that night. The trip is not any easier on Karsiyaka, either, which will make both teams focus on maximizing their chances on their home courts.