Maccabi Hunter Haifa (10-11) will host Hapoel Eilat (12-9) on Sunday at 7:35 p.m. in the 22nd game of the Winner League — the final game of the second round of the regular season. After Sunday’s contest, the third round of the schedule will be announced.
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Offer Rahimi’s Greens have won three of their last four contests after sealing a thrilling overtime road victory over Rishon Lezion, 83-79. The MVP of the game was the Greens’ captain, Oz Blayzer, who notched his third double-double on the season, tallying 13 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists in 35 minutes. The captain from the Carmel has had a great start to 2017, posting averages of 14.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists over a 9 game span.
Gregory Vargas, who was the leading scorer against Rishon with 18 points, has had a smooth return to Haifa, tallying 14.6 points, 6.8 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 35.9 minutes over 9 games. Last season, Vargas faced Eilat three times and averaged 15.6 points and 6 assists per game.
“We want to finish the second round the right way and to continue our positive momentum,“ Vargas said before the game. “In order to win against a good team like Eilat, we have to keep a high-intensity level and not lose our focus.”
SWEET MEMORIES FROM THE FIRST ROUND
In the first meeting between the two teams this season, the Greens flew to Eilat with a record of 3-7 and hoped to close the round with a surprise win over the locals. Instead, the game was fully controlled by Haifa, thanks to a career night by John DiBartolomeo, who provided one of the best individual performances in the league this season. The guard notched a career-high 35 points (10-of-14 from the field), 7 boards, 5 steals and a 45 VAL — the highest in the league this season thus far.
“Eilat is an excellent team with a system and they continue to improve each week,” said Maccabi Hunter Haifa head coach Offer Rahimi. “We have had a good run and it’s important to keep it going before the start of the third round.”
TRIPPED UP AT ASHDOD
Oded Katash’s team had a six-game winning streak snapped by Ashdod with a 93-82 defeat on February 27th. Despite the loss, Eilat has improved their record to 12-9 after a slow start to the season, and are currently in fourth place. Eilat features four players who are scoring in double figures — all of whom are imports. Landon Milbourne is on the top of the list with 17.4 points and 4.3 rebounds in 34.6 minutes per night.
The Greens’ former center, Reggie Buckner, has enjoyed playing in the Southern part of Israel as he’s averaging 10.9 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. In addition to Buckner, two more Eilat players share history in Green, Chanan Colman (7.6 points and 3.8 assists per game this season), who was Maccabi Hunter Haifa’s captain last season and center Robert Rothbart (7.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game).