Barca are Istanbul bound and Maccabi grab pole position, Euroleague round-up (vids)

Barcelona are the first team to book their place in the 2012 Euroleague Final Four following a hard-fought 67-56 win at Unics Kazan, thus winning the series 3-0.

The Catalan side sealed their third Final Four appearance in four years in what was a defensive-minded battle between two teams that prided themselves in that category all season. When a layup by Kazan’s Aleksey Savrasenko tied the game at 50 with two minutes gone by in the fourth, the home following roared their team towards a final charge.

But, it was Barcelona who made the game-defining run, charging to a 10-0 burst which sunk the spirit of the Unics Kazan fans but more importantly, the players themselves.

Juan Carlos Navarro, a renowned big-game player led the charge for the visitors with 21 points, the only Barcelona performer in double-digits. Marcelinho Huertas supported with nine points, all of them coming in the final ten minutes.

“We expected a difficult road game against Unics, since we played two tough games in Barcelona. We were sure that the game in Kazan wouldn’t be easy at all,” Navarro, speaking in Spanish admitted.

“We changed our minds in the second half and managed to play much better than the first half and won the game.”

For the current Eurocup holders Unics, it was a brave run to the quarter-finals, but they had reached their limit, but there were no complains – the Russians had nothing to be ashamed of. Henry Domercant led the fallen hosts with 19.

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“We played well in the first half, quite aggressively on defense,” Unics coach Evgeny Pashutin said afterwards.

“The 28 points scored by Barcelona speaks to the quality of our defense. At the break, I told my players that we needed to stay tuned and concentrated. Of course, it was pretty tough to stay concentrated for all 40 minutes against such a strong opponent; however we should have played as a team to keep on winning.

Pashutin added: “To defeat Barcelona, you need better experience and concentration. Now we should be content with what we have achieved, which is not bad at all. We have qualified to the last eight and this is a worthy result indeed.”

MACCABI TAKE VITAL GAME THREE.

Maccabi Electra followed their superb win in Athens last week to beat Panathinaikos 65-62 at the Nokia Arena.

The Israeli side are now one win away from back-to-back Final Four appearances and if tomorrow brings victory, it would be the perfect revenge for last year’s disappointment of seeing the Greek side lift the Euroleague crown at their expense.

Yogev Ohayon produced another impressive effort for Maccabi with 12 points and 6 assists while Devin Smith added 11 points.

Mike Batiste led Panathinaikos in vain with 13 points. The Greens trailed 41-28 at half-time, but held the hosts to just nine third quarter points. Richard Hendrix’s tip-in put Maccabi up by three (65-62) with 15.4 seconds to go. Nick Calathes had a shot at the buzzer, but his potential game-tying triple bounced out.

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Maccabi coach David Blatt said: “Huge thanks to our fans. This is how we know them and this is how we needed them. They pushed us to this win.

“I hope they will do it again. Panathinaikos is a big team. It was a game of two halves. We were better in the first half; they were better in the second. Without the first half, we wouldn’t have won.”