Joventut Badalona returned to Palau Olimpic after its first home loss in 7DAYS EuroCup action in the last two seasons, against Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul. Its Round 10 opponent was UNICS Kazan, which came to Badalona knowing that a win in regulation would give it first place in Group A. UNICS had good momentum, too, after winning four of its previous five games.
Joventut managed to stop UNICS 84-77, a win that kept Joventut in the hunt to finish first or second in Group A. When Joventut hosts JL Bourg en Bresse on Wednesday, December 30, in a Round 7 makeup game, if it wins or loses by up to 6 points, it will finish first. In any other case, Joventut will be second.
It was an important game for the club and its homegrown talents, young and experienced, stepped up to make sure Joventut grabbed a good-as-gold victory. No-one was better than Neno Dimitrijevic, who came off the bench to score 23 points - matching his career-high - on 6-of-7 two-point shooting and 8-of-8 on free throws plus 6 fouls drawn for a performance index rating of 27.
Dimitrijevic came off the bench late in the first quarter with UNICS up 11-13. When he returned to the bench, his team led 35-26. "It was about energy: when we had energy, we were playing better," Dimitrijevic said after the game. "We could run fast breaks and scored easy buckets, so I think it was a game of energy. We battled through it and got the win in the end."
Xabi Lopez-Arostegui also had a strong performance with 17 points on 10-of-11 free-throw shooting and 9 rebounds for a PIR of 25. Some of those free throws came in the most decisive moments of the game when UNICS was getting closer and closer. Joventut made 28 of 30 free throws in the game. It had not reached that number of made free throws in EuroCup action since hitting 29 against Virtus Bologna on December 16, 2003.
Those who grew up in Badalona and came back also played critical roles. Ferran Bassas buried 4 three-point shots to total 12 points, and Pau Ribas did a bit of everything - 3 points, 3 assists, 6 fouls drawn - to ensure his team grabbed another win.
Ribas doesn't know what it is to lose a EuroCup game with his beloved Joventut jersey: 22 wins from 22 games. He was present in all 16 games that Joventut won in the 2007-08 season when he lifted the first of his two EuroCup trophies; Ribas won the competition again with Valencia Basket in 2014. Ribas has a 6-0 record with Joventut this season, and a 48-16 record overall.
"It was hard for us to understand the game in the beginning, especially their direct-screen defense, which made us feel very uncomfortable. Little by little, we got into the game," Duran said after the game. "In general, I am happy. We beat a great team, still have chances to finish first, which is great news. Let's see if we can seal that first place against Bourg."