The Euroleague's top two rebounding teams meet in Group A as Zalgiris hosts Strasbourg in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday. Group co-leader Zalgiris (4-1) has won two in a row after taking down Bamberg 72-79 on the road behind a 19-point, 8-rebound performance by Paulius Jankunas last week. Strasbourg (1-4) won for the first time two weeks ago against Olimpija and lost a close game with Climamio last week 75-78. One thing in common for those performances was the drop-off in production by K'Zell Wesson alongside big games from Alvin Young and Ricardo Green. Wesson (12.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg.) was Strasbourg's go-to guy in the opening weeks, but has since totalled just 13 points and 7 rebounds over two games. Young (15 ppg.) and Greer (12.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg.), last week's co-MVP, have taken over the scoring. Another player earning more minutes is 2.18-meter center Ondrej Starosta, who has 18 points and 8 offensive rebounds over those games and has helped the team establish itself as a threat on the offensive glass, where it pulls 12 rebounds on average. Zalgiris should have answers to many of Strasbourg's threats, with rising star Jankunas (14 ppg., 6.4 rpg.), Darjus Lavrinovic (13 ppg, 7.2 rpg.) and 2.16-meter center Darius Silinskis in the frontline, all of whom have stepped up their play in the absence of injure star Tanoka Beard. On the perimeter, swingman Reggie Freeman (13.4 ppg, 2.2 steals) and playmaker Ed Cota (6.2 ppg, 3.6 apg.) are playing solid defense, a key to the team's success so far. In the team's lone loss this season, Zalgiris committed 21 turnovers and shot 3-for-21 (14.2%) from beyond the arc. If Strasbourg hopes to sting Zalgiris again, the answer may lie in trusting its interior players to hold their own while using the guards to put pressure on the ball and challenge every outside shot. For that, Strasbourg will need solid contributions from Aymeric Jeanneau (7.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) and reserve Stanley Jackson on both sides of the ball. Expect Zalgiris to pull the Strasbourg rebounders away from the basket by letting its big men shoot long-distance shots. Whether they go, and who gets the rebounds, will influence who wins Thursday's game.
Wednesday, December 7, 2005