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Olimpia is going to Madrid, Coach Messina: “They have depth, size and talent, we want to take a step forward”


A basketball classic takes place in Madrid. Real Madrid during the  last week, against Baskonia, lost at home for the fourth time this season but continues to fight for the EuroLeague supremacy (currently it is second behind Olympiacos, one win away). Olimpia is coming off six consecutive wins (8.5 points, the average margin), a streak achieved under the lead of Coach Ettore Messina in both the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons, but never surpassed. The game against Real Madrid obviously represents a very high obstacle. In its history Olimpia has won only twice here and only once in the top international competition (during the 2020/21 season). Real Madrid won the game in Milan in October mostly because the outstanding performances of the two wingers Mario Hezonja and Dzanan Musa, who combined for 40 points (15-for-20 shooting). Dealing with their superior size and high-level skills (and the same is true for Gabriel Deck, MVP of the last EuroLeague round) will be the first step toward a high-level performance. These are two teams with a great defensive imprinting: Olimpia allows 76.3 points per game, second overall, Real Madrid with 77.7 is fifth but keeps its opponents at the lowest league index rating and is the best team at defending internally. With Tavares as the ultimate rim protector holds the other teams at 49.7 percent shooting from two. A new “tour de force” is waiting for Olimpia: eight games between the Italian league and the EuroLeague over 18 days. Olimpia will play four games of the next five on the road with two consecutive double rounds to make up for the Istanbul game against Fenerbahce that was postponed. Olimpia unfortunately will be missing Shavon Shields, Devon Hall, Gigi Datome and Paul Biligha.

THE REFEREES – Sasa Pukl (Slovenia), Fernando Rocha (Portugal), Luka Kardum (Croatia).

COACH ETTORE MESSINA – “We face clearly a contending team, extremely deep, with centimeters, size and talent at any position. We will have to play a great team defense to contain their perimeter players’ firepower, including in post up situations. On top of it, we’ll need to be as physical as possible against their bigs to take care of rebounding. Offensively, a quick movement of players and ball will be essential against a defense built around Tavares’ presence in the middle. As we did over the last few games, we’ll try to make another step forward, improve in terms of quality and consistency throughout the game, regardless of the missing players.”

REAL MADRID – Fighting for the league supremacy, Real Madrid is a team with impressive depth at every position and impressive physicality not only with the bigs but also with perimeter players like Hezonja, Deck and Musa, when used as a small forward. Coach Chus Mateo can choose from many different set-ups and this season he has opted for a collective solution at the point guard position, with Sergio Llull (absent due to injury in the last few games, 6.7 points per game), Sergio Rodriguez (3.7 points and 4.0 assists per game), Nigel Williams-Goss (6.5 points per game, 38.1% from three, but he should be out with an injury), but also Fabien Causeur, Alberto Abalde and Adam Hanga if necessary. Rudy Fernandez, who was out in the Milan game, is back. He is averaging 4.7 points per game. Croatian Mario Hezonja at guard and forward produces 9.0 points per game but he is shooting 44.0 percent from three and adds 2.5 rebounds per game. Forward Gabriel Deck, from Argentina, scores 12.4 points on 63.8 shooting from two and averages 5.5 rebounds per game. Bosnian Dzanan Musa is the team leading scorer with 15.0 points per game, 58.2 percent from two, 39.8 percent from three, 2.8 rebounds. Petr Cornelie, a perimeter power forward, is scoring 7.0 points per game, shoots 41.1 percent from three point range and is grabbing 3.6 rebounds per game. The French Guerschon Yabusele, a power forward, averages 8.4 points per game, shoots 37.8 percent from three and gets 3.8 rebounds per outing. The starting center is Edy Tavares, the first shot-blocker in EuroLeague history, a high-impact defender (2.4 blocks per game) who averages 10.4 points per game andshoots 69.2 percent from two. For him there are also 6.8 rebounds per game. His back-up is the French international Vincent Poirier (5.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, 61.7 percent from the field).

THE REAL MADRID CONNECTION – Sergio Rodriguez has played in Milan for three seasons, leading the team to its first Final Four berth in 29 years, in 2021, to the Italian league championship in 2022, to two Italian Cups and one Supercup. Rodriguez is the all-time 3rd best scorer in Olimpia EuroLeague history, first for assists and three-point shots made. Ettore Messina has coached Real Madrid for two seasons with a 23-13 EuroLeague’s record. Among his players during that time there were Sergio Llull and Sergio Rodriguez.

HISTORY VS REAL MADRID – In European competitions, Olimpia Milano and Real Madrid have met 37 times, with a record of 26-11 in Real Madrid favor. The Real Madrid-Olimpia duel awarded the European Cup in 1967 in Madrid and the Cup Winners’ Cup in Ostend in 1984: in both circumstances, Real won. This game has been played 18 times in Madrid and the record so far is 16-2 for the Blancos. In Milan, it is 9-9. Olimpia has won in Madrid 62-61 (Lonnie Cooper and Claudio Coldebella scored 11 points each) in the 2003/04 Eurocup, then it won for the first time in Madrid in EuroLeague in 2021, 80-76 with Sergio Rodriguez scoring 17 points and Malcolm Delaney adding 14. The earlier game this season was won 83-77 by Real Madrid. Kevin Pangos scored 21 points.

NICOLO’ MELLI NOTES – Nicolò Melli during the last EuroLeague round became the all-time leading rebounder in Olimpia history. He surpassed the 626 rebounds grabbed by Kaleb Tarczewski. Ha has 632 now. He is also one point shy of 2.000 for his career. He’d be the 20th player ever to have at least 2.000 points and 1.000 total rebounds. Finally, he is five defensive rebounds away from 1.000 for his career. He’d be the sixth to reach that milestone. The fifth place is close enough: Ante Tomic has 1.025.

KYLE HINES NOTES – Kyle Hines is 21 defensive rebounds shy of 1.000 for his career. His streak of 103 consecutive games player for Olimpia is still active. He is the fourth-ever in Olimpia per EuroLeague appearances behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Nicolò Melli and Vlado Micov.

BILLY BARON NOTES – Olimpia is 10-3 when Billy Baron ha scored in double digit. In the other two wins, he had nine points (in Munich) and eight (vs Panathinaikos). In Olimpia wins, Baron is averaging 15.0 points per game and is shooting 50.0 percent from three and 66.7% on twos. He has made at least one three in each of his last seven appearances.