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Olimpia is facing Zalgiris, Coach Messina: “We need to regain our confidence back”


After four straight road games, Olimpia is coming home to face Zalgiris. During the long road trip, the best game was the first, played and won in Bologna, while the team regressed during the course of the week and had definitely a subpar outing in Berlin. On top of it, Tommaso Baldasso got injured in Naples, this is his second injury of the season, and will be out for a while. Zalgiris has built its excellent record (10-8) by protecting the home court (7-2), while on the road it has won one less game than Olimpia did in spite of a much better position. However, during this Italian week, Zalgiris won in Bologna convincingly last Tuesday. Kaunas just replaced two injured players (Keenan Evans and Tyler Cavanaugh, who might return at some point) with Isaiah Taylor and Achille Polonara. Both played in Bologna and Taylor was very good in his debut. Olimpia has won in the last two home games, against AS Monaco and Valencia. Tip off time will be 20:30 in Mediolanum Forum.

REFEREES Sreten Radovic (Croatia), Robert Vyklicky (Czech Republic), Carlos Cortes (Spain).

COACH ETTORE MESSINA – “We face a Zalgiris team in very good shape, with a lot of pride and confidence at a very high level since their win in Bologna. We need to regain our confidence back, forget about the last few outings and come back to play close to the level we expressed until one week ago, especially playing before our fanbase who never failed in supporting the team. We will have to be good enough to deserve their support starting with the simplest things, like limiting the turnovers, controlling the board and being consistent in the way we will play”.

ZALGIRIS KAUNAS – The Lithuanian team had to change skin a little over the last week because of the injury reported by starting point-guard Keenan Evans, who was having a terrific campaign so far, but suffered a season-ending Achilles’ injury. Evans was promptly replaced by Isaiah Taylor, a 29-year-old point-guard, 1.91 mt tall, who was playing for Efes at the beginning of the season. From Efes moved to Zalgiris power forward Achille Polonara (2.8 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in the EuroLeague) to make up for Tyler Cavanaugh injury. Both made their debut in Bologna earlier. The other point-guard is Lukas Lekavicius (averaging 5.9 points per game). Ignas Brazdeikis, raised in North America, who had a relevant career at Michigan and spent part of three seasons in the NBA, is the starting shooting guard (10.1 points per game on average). Edgaras Ulanovas is the starting small forward, he is producing 11.2 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and is shooting 37.5 percent from three. Estonian Rolands Smits is the starting power forward (he is averaging 9.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game). The starting center is Kevarrius Hayes, an energy player who is averaging 5.5 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Off the bench are coming, along Taylor and Polonara, the hot shooters Tomas Dimsa (45.2 percent from three, 6.2 points per game) and center Arnas Butkevicius who is providing 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.

HISTORY VS. ZALGIRIS – The two teams faced each other 21 times with a 11-10 record favorable to Olimpia. It is 8-8 during the EuroLeague era. During the 1985/86 season, Zalgiris, led by the great Arvydas Sabonis, won 80-79 over Olimpia in Kaunas, but Milan took its revenge in Italy, dominating 95-66. The following season, when Olimpia was on its way to win the first of its two European championships, Milan defeated Zalgiris twice, 75-71 at home, 100-85 on the road. Zalgiris however won the Saporta Cup championship game in 1998 (82-67). Olimpia has won four consecutive games between the teams, before losing earlier this season in Kaunas, 71-62 with Keenan Evans scoring 23 points and overcooling the big Naz Mitrou-Longs’ 18-point night.

THE ZALGIRIS CONNECTION Mantas Kalnietis, who won the Italian championship in 2016 (and also two Italia Cups), has played for Olimpia 40 EuroLeague games with 278 points scored. Kevin Pangos has spent two years in Kaunas, including a trip to the Final Four: overall, he appeared in 66 games with 716 points and 308 assists. Brandon Davies has taken part of 70 EuroLeague games with Zalgiris with 818 points and 307 rebounds. Rolands Smith has played in Barcelona with both Pangos and Davies.

GAME NOTES –Nicolò Melli has started in all 18 Olimpia games (only 11 players have always started so far in the league) and in all the last 49 Milan games in which he was able to play. Melli with 1.279 rebounds for his career is now the 11th ever: a Top 10 spot is eight rebounds away (Mirsad Turkcan with 1.287). He is also eight points away from reaching the 800-point threshold with Olimpia. Billy Baron has averaged 17.2 points per game in Olimpia’s six wins. Kyle Hines is three blocks away from 300 for his career. Since he is in Milan, in the EuroLeague he has played 94 games out of 94.