Copa Del Rey round up (day 1)

The 2014 Copa Del Rey is underway on the Costa Del Sol with many interesting encounters.

Real Madrid opened up the 2014 edition of the Copa del Rey with a convincing 83-60 victory over Herbalife Gran Canaria.

Rudy Fernandez and Nikola Mirotic both scoring 17 points for Madrid, while Walter Tavares was Gran Canaria’s leading light, as the young centre chipped in with 16 points.

It was a cagey start for both teams with Eulid Baez missing a three after Tavares won the tip for GranCa and Sergio Llull responding by airballing a fadeaway jumpshot immediately afterward. Australian Brad Newley opened the scoring by rebounding his own miss and it proved to be GranCa’s only lead of the game as Nikola Mirotic and Rudy Fernandez both threes early on to push Real into a quick 10-4 lead. Mirtotic kept on scoring throughout the first ending with 11 points, with two uncontested layups after quick cuts to go along with some jumpshots. It was Real’s defence that was the most impressive however, they bumped fronted and hustled, knocking GranCa’s timing off and keeping them to just 9 points in the first quarter.

Real kept their foot on the accelerator in the second quarter, as they opened the quarter with Sergio Rodriguez lobbing to Marcus Slaughter for an emphatic dunk; a trademark Serrod-Rudy backdoor alley oop and a Jaycee Carroll three to put themselves 17 points ahead and end any chance of a GranCa comeback. Real’s defensive effort was manifest on the box score at half time, as only four GranCa players (Tavares, Newley, Hansbrough and Martin) had troubled the scorers, as they trailed 41-20.

With an intimidating 21-point lead Real came out looking composed in the third, as other than Walter Tavares offensive rebounding GranCa continued to struggle, with defensive pest Dontaye Draper chasing Tomas Bellas around. GranCa began to rally towards the end of the third with dunks from Walter Tavares and Nacho Martin capping a (relatively) impressive stretch to put them back with 18 points, at 61-43 at the end of three quarters.

The solid GranCa run continued into the fourth with another Nacho Martin dunk slimming the lead to 16, but that was as close as it got as Real firmly stamped on the throat of GranCa. Sergio Rodriguez started to fire, finding Tremmel Darden for a corner three, then a few plays later slipping a slick behind the back pass to Salah Mejri after the Tunisian centre had blocked a Eulis Baez dunk at the rim the play before. In the remaining three minutes Tomas Bellas made some tough plays to cut the lead slightly again as Real ran their bench, but ultimately it was a convincing Real victory.

Given the strength of Gran Canaria in the Liga Endesa it could easily have been a banana skin game for Madrid, but the empahtic nature must be a worry for the other major contenders, as both their offence and their defence were impressive today. All 12 players in their squad scored and as per usual it was Sergio Rodriguez marshalling their offence as El Chacho finished with 8 assists with a normally stingy Gran Canaria defence unable to control him in the pick and roll game.

Defensively Real were suffocating, every time a Gran Canaria player cut, they were bodied up, slowed down and pushed off their path. To stop the pick-and-roll they fronted to directly get in the way of the screener’s path to the ballhandler and then when the screen was set their long defenders at the wing positions could comfortably help and recover.

CAI Zaragoza upset the hosts, Unicaja Malaga, in the second game on Thursday evening as they prevailed in a closely contested 79-74 contest. Zaragoza had five players score in double digits, and came back from a seven point half time deficit.

Nik Caner-Medley opened the scoring for Unicaja with a corner three after a strong drive from Sergi Vidal, Zaragoza looked to big Georgian centre Giorgi Shermadini early on both in the post and rolling to the basket as he scored 6 of Zaragoza’s first 8 points. This freed up space for Damjan Rudez to make the first of four threes on the night which pushed Malaga into a 13-5 hole. Viktor Sanikidzw was forced to sit towards the end of the first half after committing two early fouls, and Unicaja came back into the game a little, trailing by just four at the end of one, 11-15.

The introduction of Mindaugus Kuzminskas in the second, along with Sanikidze sitting on the bench for the entirety of the quarter, sparked Malaga on a superb second quarter run. The Lithuanian was everywhere finishing tough transition plays in traffic and knocking down corner threes as he shot 6/6 in the quarter for 13 points. His fellow wing player Zoran Dragic was equally as spectacular on his way to 9 points as Zaragoza switched to a match up zone, which they quickly abandoned when they found themselves on the end of an 11-2 run, which culminated in a Nik Caner-Medley and one to push the score to 34-24. Zaragoza mounted a small comeback to end the half, with Shermadini again being key, as he finished a tough and one to make the score 38-31 at half-time.

After the halftime break Viktor Sanikidze returned from his foul induced second quarter exile and led Zaragoza on a decisive run. After baskets were traded early on Sanikidze but down a dunk in transition and a few plays later knocked down a three from the left wing after Pedro Llompart went round a Giorgi Shermadini screen and slung a cross court pass to an open Sanikidze. Joan Plaza called a timeout with the score at 49-47 in their favout and a little over two minutes left in the third but it did nothing to halt Zaragoza’s progress as Damjan Rudez hit a transition three on Zaragoza’s next offensive possession. The quarter ended with Giorgi Shermadini putting back a Jonathan Tabu layup with 37 seconds left, before Malaga wasted their final possession, leaving them with a 56-51 deficit.

Baskets were traded at the beginning of the fourth quarter, with Viktor Sanikidze again being the key man for Zaragoza by first knocking down a three of his own, before driving and kicking to find and open Damjan Rudez in the corner for another triple. With Kuzminskas inexplicably sitting for the entire fourth quarter, Zoran Dragic did his best to keep them in the game, hustling after offensive rebounds and driving hard to the hoop. After a scrappy period where both teams struggled to score Unicaja brought themselves within two points at 66-64, after Damjan Rudez lazily tried to stop a Zoran Dragic fast break, resulting in an unsportsmanlike foul.

Belgian international Jonathan Tabu answered straight away with a pull up three-pointer to stretch Zaragoza’s lead back up to five, which was responded by Damjan Rudez, who hit perhaps the most important of his four threes, an effort from the corner off a Pedro Llompart assist, before Llompart knocked down two free throws to make the lead 74-67.

With Unicaja now forced to foul they faced an uphill battle to get back in the game, and ultimately ran out of steam despite the best efforts of Nik Caner-Medley and Zoran Dragic. During Unicaja’s desperate attempts to foul, we saw Michael Roll unfortunately injure his wrist or hand taking a foul from Zoran Dragic, whether this will affect his status for the next game remains to be seen.

Questions must be asked of Joan Plaza’s rotations, with Mindaugus Kuzminskas scoring 18 points in 16 minutes across the second and third quarter he was benched in favour of Carlos Suarez and a three guard lineup of Granger, Toolson and Urtasan. Furthermore Sergi Vidal spent the entire second and third quarters on the bench, while Urtasan and Toolson continued to play poorly. Perhaps Plaza would have been able to manage his minutes better with Earl Calloway in the rotation, but there is no explanation for the absence of Kuzminskas.

Zaragoza face an uphill battle in their semi final against Real, they gave up 21 offensive rebounds to Malaga and with Real being perhaps the best offensive rebounding team in Europe they will have to toughen up in the front court to avoid embarrassment. Their shooting performance will give them hope however, with Viktor Sanikidze and Damjan Rudez stretching the floor their offence looked great, and it will have to be to stand any kind of a chance against Real.

Follow George Rowland on twitter @georgerowland