By Cesare Milanti / email@example.com
The Week 5 of the 2023 Basketball Champions League Round of 16 prepared the Quarter-Finals stage, which is basically set. Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem, SIG Strasbourg, Telekom Baskets Bonn, Unicaja Malaga, AEK, Lenovo Tenerife, and UCAM Murcia have qualified, but one last team is missing.
On March 22 at 18:30 CET, Rytas Vilnius (2-3) and BAXI Manresa (3-2) will face each other to discover which will be the one earning the last spot among the best eight BCL teams.
🇱🇹 @RytasVilnius or @BasquetManresa 🇪🇸
Who gets the last card? 🃏#BasketballCL pic.twitter.com/x40lOg69L6
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) March 16, 2023
Rytas Vilnius is still alive
The Lithuanian side didn’t have the most comfortable of paths so far in this season’s Basketball Champions League. After bringing to Vilnius two high-level guards such as Marcus Foster and Elvar Fridriksson, the red-and-white team came to the Round of 16 facing some obstacles.
They qualified to the Play-Ins by beating 85-78 the reigning champions of Lenovo Tenerife in the last Regular Season game and ended this stage with the same record (3-3) as Peristeri, which was beaten twice by the Lithuanians.
Then, after ruling out PAOK 2-1 in the best-of-three series, they jumped into Group J with Telekom Baskets Bonn, BAXI Manresa, and Bahcesehir. Losing twice to the German undefeated team and in the first Round of 16 encounters against the Catalan team (82-69), Rytas Vilnius is still alive.
However, in order to advance to the Basketball Champions League Quarter-Finals for the first time in the club’s history, Giedrius Žibėnas and his players will chase a 13-point gap against the Spanish side in the battle for the second spot in Group J, and therefore for the Quarter-Finals ticket.
They arrive at the decisive matchup against BAXI Manresa with their second-best scoring performance of the BCL season, beating Bahcesehir 92-69 on the road.
With the support of thousands of red-and-white passionate fans in the Rytas Arena, they can still pull a miracle, which will write one of the most exciting stories of the year.
🎶 𝗛𝗔 𝗛𝗔 𝗛𝗔 𝗛𝗔 𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗬𝗜𝗡’ 𝗔𝗟𝗜𝗩𝗘 🎶 @RytasVilnius stay in the hunt for Quarter-Finals with a comfortable win in Turkey! 👀 #BasketballCL
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) March 15, 2023
Was it all a dream for BAXI Manresa?
In the 2021-22 Basketball Champions League, all the attention and curiosity were on BAXI Manresa’s run. A team for the ages, which managed to roll past the opponents in both the Regular Season and Round of 16 phases, before pushing Unicaja Malaga out of the Final Four.
Then, at the Miribilla Arena in Bilbao, thousands of Catalan fans came to support their idols, who first had the better of MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg and then couldn’t bring the trophy home against the BCL powerhouse Lenovo Tenerife, dragged by the Final Four MVP Marcelinho Huertas.
The MVP of the season Chima Moneke, the backcourt formed by Sylvain Francisco and Joe Thomasson, and two flying centers like Ismael Bako and Yankuba Sima were just some pieces of the exciting puzzle (1st in the competition for points, rebounds, and assists per game) created by the 61-year-old legendary head coach.
Following such a historic run, BAXI Manresa had to deal with its main weapons leaving the team:
- Chima Moneke tried his chances in the NBA with Sacramento before joining AS Monaco
- Joe Thomasson went first to Russia and then joined Promitheas
- Sylvain Francisco was recruited by Vassilis Spanoulis’ Peristeri
- Yankuba Sima joined Reyer Venezia and then came back to Spain with Unicaja
- Ismael Bako is playing in the EuroLeague with Virtus Bologna
After a pretty disappointing transfer market in the summer of 2022, the Catalan side seems to be in great shape right now following some repairing moves. Players like Brancou Badio, Devin Robinson, Jerrick Harding, Frankie Ferrari, and team captain Jaumpi Vaulet are now dragging it.
Qualified for the Round of 16 after leading Group F in the Regular Season, they are now 2nd in Group J with a 3-2 record, losing both games against Telekom Baskets Bonn, the clear favorite to win it all in May. The matchup against Rytas Vilnius is a do-or-die game.
Moreover, in the latest ACB League clash against Real Betis, won by BAXI Manresa 91-84, Jerrick Harding wrote history by scoring 41 points and marking the fifth-best scoring performance in the history of the Spanish domestic league.
He is now only behind Sylven Landesberg’s 48, Marlon Garnett’s 46, Vincenzo Esposito’s 46, and Jacob Pullen’s 42. And the craziest of things is that he produced this performance in only 28:35 minutes spent on the court.
The American guard already proved several times, including the comeback 77-76 win against Bahcesehir in the Round of 16, to be the true leader of Pedro Martinez’s team. Will he be enough to bring BAXI Manresa back to the Quarter-Finals for the second BCL season in a row?
📺 What a 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗲𝗯𝗮𝗰𝗸 for @BasquetManresa! 🥵
⚠️ WARNING! Before watching these highlights, you should be in good health and free from heart conditions.
The Official Partner of the #BasketballCL is #Lubelskie – Lubelskie Tastelife! #zDUMĄwspieramySport #LubelskieTastelife pic.twitter.com/Ul9FiMmOwi
— Basketball Champions League (@BasketballCL) March 8, 2023
PHOTO CREDIT: Basketball Champions League