17 October, 2023
05 May, 2024
Second Semi-Final preview: A case of seeing double in Belgrade
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Second Semi-Final preview: A case of seeing double in Belgrade

BELGRADE (Serbia) - When Unicaja face UCAM Murcia in the Semi-Finals on Friday it will be a clash with an intense air of familiarity, not only because they are both Spanish clubs, but also because they play a similar style of basketball. Only one can reach the Final on Sunday though.

For UCAM, this is the second time that they've reached the closing tournament, after finishing third in the Basketball Champions League in Athens in 2018. Their coach on that occasion? The current Unicaja playcaller Ibon Navarro.

Coach Navarro celebrating a third-place finish with Murcia in 2018

Unicaja on the other hand are making back-to-back Final Four appearances, as they've reached the Final Four immediately after their fourth place finish in Malaga in 2023.

How did they get here?

UCAM stormed through the Regular Season with five straight wins to overtake Bertram Derthona Tortona and finish top of their group at 5-1, with a tiebreaker over the Italian team. They did not pull their foot off the gas and secured three more wins to make it eight straight, paving the way to a 4-2 Round of 16 record and a place in the Quarter-Finals.

MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg could not stop them there, and a clean 2-0 sweep sent UCAM back to the Final Four after six years. Overall, the Murcia  side have won 11 of their 14 games in the BCL this season, the second-best record this season.

The only team with a better record than UCAM? Unicaja, at 12-2. Their only two defeats came way back in the Regular Season, as the team from Malaga went on their own eight-game winning streak, clearing the Round of 16 phase with a perfect 6-0, the only team to do so this season.

Unicaja were tested by Promitheas in the Quarter-Finals, but they responded by building a defensive wall in Game 1 of the series to allow just 54 points.. They won Game 2 on the other end, scoring 90 points on the road in Greece to advance to the Semi-Finals with a 2-0 Quarter-Finals series win.

What are their strengths?

These two teams have the exact same approach to basketball success. They opted for stability and longevity off the court, with Unicaja bringing back all but one of their players from 2022-23, while UCAM have built a long term core, too, signing their key players to multiyear contracts.

On the court, they spread the minutes across their entire roster and play with a lot of intensity, sprinting, getting into early-offense sets. They both have big wings and centers with elite hands and finishing around the rim.

There is quite a lot of copy-paste going on in their stast too, as their numbers suggest in offensive rebounding (Unicaja 12.1; Murcia 12), blocks (Murcia 3.2 ; Unicaja 2.8), assists (Unicaja 20.8; Murcia 20.6 ), and even efficiency rating (Murcia 100.9; Unicaja 99.9) per game. Too similar to call.

What could be a problem?

Coach Ibon Navarro mentioned in the pre-event press conference that the Liga Endesa matchup from December is not relevant, as UCAM have changed their lineup a bit since then. However, Murcia's rebounding was a problem back then, as they gave up 17 offensive rebounds to Unicaja in that 88-65 win for the Malaga outfit.

For Unicaja, not taking care of the ball could be a problem. In both of their BCL defeats they commited double-digit turnovers, just like in four of their five Liga Endesa defeats this season. This means the only game Unicaja lost whilst having single-digit turnovers was the one against Real Madrid, 87-81 in March.

Why could double-digit turnovers be a problem on Friday? Because UCAM come up with 9.4 steals per game, the second-best mark of all teams in Season 8 of the BCL, and score 19.7 points off turnovers, nearly 3 points more than Unicaja in the same category.


What is the key matchup?

UCAM have found a hero in their mid-season signing, Marko Todorovic. The big Montenegrin has clicked perfectly with the rest of the team, getting the MVP of the Month award in the Liga Endesa in February and averaging 13.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 16.4 efficiency rating over his nine BCL games.

Todorovic is a master after a short roll, and could even be a pick-and-pop threat, hitting 7-of-16 three-pointers this season. However, he's up against a similar kind of player.

David Kravish can hit the midrange with elite efficiency, while knocking down 6-of-13 shots from beyond the arc for the year. Kravish is up to 10.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 13.2 efficiency rating per game during Unicaja's run back to the Final Four.

Have they faced off before?

Plenty of times in the Spanish League, including the aforementioned December clash. However, they also have a couple of BCL matchups behind them, as Unicaja swept Murcia in the Quarter-Finals last season.

The first game in Malaga finished 83-67, with all 12 players featuring for at least seven minutes and at most 24 minutes for coach Ibon Navarro. Unicaja won the second game 96-74, as Kravish led the way with 16 points and 6 rebounds.

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