Day two of the Euroleague qualifying tournament saw wins for both favourites but the overall favourites suffered a big scare in Oostende.
The day opened with Hapoel Jerusalem taking care of business against CEZ Nymburk. For three quarters, the Israeli side was in complete control thanks in no small part to a 16 point and 8 rebound performance from Lior Eliyahu. Bracey Wright scored 22 points for the victors while Derwin Kitchen added 15 points, 5 assists, and 5 boards. To their credit, Nymburk rallied in the final frame but Hapoel still had ample room to spare in a 94-84 win.
All eyes were on Unics Kazan. The Russian club is stacked but favourites have a habit of coming into this tournament with a heap of expectation and failing spectacularly. At half-time, Kazan were well on top and any prospect of an upset was well and truly put to bed. Right?
Zielona Gora shaved 4 points off the deficit in the third frame and then squeezed it down to just a 1 point margin before the clash descended into a free throw contest. Steven Burtt went off for 30 points and the Russians were in trouble. Kazan however kept their nerve at the line and squeezed home uncomfortably 90-86.
Now the question is, was this a blip or should Unics be on upset alert for the next two days. Anything short of a whupping tomorrow night will ensure doubt looms over them on Friday and if you’re Hapoel, surely you think the favourites have been rattled. Nobody expects the Jerusalem club to make it to Euroleague but they have to be loaded with confidence facing down Kazan in a one-off situation.
This competition is one bizarre beast. Other sports have qualifying formats, few play out in quite the hectic and unpredictable way of Euroleague qualifying. Tomorrow sees an all-French affair for a shot at the winner of Hapoel and Kazan. It’s still there for the Russian club to take but nothing would surprise me on Thursday night.