Maccabi Hunter Haifa (18-13) will host Hapoel Eilat (16-15) in the 32nd game of the Israeli Winner League in the final regular season home game at RK Arena before the start of the playoffs.
The Greens are aiming to clinch third place, and need to win one of the last two regular season games (the final game will be on the road against Hapoel Tel Aviv). Hapoel Eilat is having a solid third round (6-4), and could potentially finish in third place or fourth place, surpassing Maccabi Haifa and Nahariya. Eilat was on a four-game winning streak, but were handed two straight losses by Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
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The Greens managed to win a difficult road game (73-70) against Kiryat Gat, which are fighting off relegation. Gregory Vargas’ 14-game streak of scoring in double figures was snapped last game as he struggled from the field with just 5 points. Only 3 Green players tallied double figures. Rene Rougeau reach double-digits for the third straight game, scoring 11 points in 19 minutes. Oz Blayzer was great in the first quarter and finished the game with 10 points. But it was Captain Chanan Colman who was the MVP with 18 points including 4-of-7 from downtown.
“The game on Sunday is important to both sides as each team wants to secure third place. We want to clinch it, and Eilat wants to pass us. They are playing extremely well over the past 2 months, so it’s going to be a battle,” Captain Colman said. “We hold a grudge against them from last season, since they eliminated us from the playoffs. We look forward to the game and all of our Green fans cheering us on.”
Will Graves is receiving a lot of minutes lately. In the last 8 games, he is playing 35 minutes on average (including 2 overtimes). Graves is well known as a sharp shooter, but in the last six games he has shown he can help his teammates in other ways, averaging 3.0 assists per game (comparing to his season average – 1.3). Last game, he dished out a career-high 5 assists.
In order to beat Eilat, Maccabi will likely need Rougeau and Colman to step up. In the team’s victories, the forward is contributing 11.2 points per game (comparing to 7.5 in losses) and the Captain is tallying 11.1 points in wins and only 8.8 points in the Greens’ defeats. Oddly enough, when Varags and Chubrevich put up higher scoring figures, the Greens struggle. Varags is netting 15.7 points per loss and 12.8 in wins, and the center registers 11.2 points when Maccabi looses and 7.0 points when they win.
The northerners of Haifa and the southerners of Eilat have met twice this season in the league, and each have won at their respective home courts. In the first game at Eilat, the locals won 72-69 in a dramatic game, and at RK Arena, five months ago, the Hunters defeated Eilat 79-61. Will Graves was unstoppable with 24 points and 8 rebounds, while Eilat’s Khalif Wyatt was the top scorer with 15 points.
It seems that Wyatt loves to play against Haifa. Last season, he set a career-record in points (35) and VAL (37) in game 5 of the quarterfinals series between the teams, in which Eilat eliminated the Greens.
Among the 4 leading Americans on Eilat, Maccabi Hunter Haifa has yet to face two of them; forward LaQuinton Ross, who contributes 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game and guard DeAndre Kane, who averages 11.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. The Greens are all too familiar with Wyatt (15.3 points and 4.4 assist per game) and center Alade Aminu, who registered a double-double in both games against Maccabi this season, with 12 points and 11 rebounds on average.