Play-Offs Quarter-Final preview: AS Monaco v Dinamo Sassari
MONACO (Basketball Champions League) - AS Monaco and Dinamo Sassari will be looking to write another famous chapter in their clubs' respective histories by booking a spot in the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League.
In this inaugural campaign of the competition, the French league leaders Monaco and Italian Lega A title contenders Sassari have had starring roles.
Monaco, who recently won the Disneyland Paris Leaders Cup for the second time in a row, are now homing in on the club's first European trophy but Sardinians Sassari promise to be formidable opponents.
"I told my players, our next goal is the Final Four. We have to go game by game." - Monaco coach Zvezdan Mitrovic
After surviving arguably the most difficult of the five groups in the Regular Season with a fifth-place finish behind Besiktas Sompo Japan, AEK Athens, Partizan and MHP RIESEN, Sassari have edged CEZ Nymburk in a Play-Off Qualifier tie.
They won the opening leg by 22 points at home but then trailed by 30 in the Czech Republic before losing by 21 to advance with a one-point aggregate triumph.
Federico Pasquini's side then took command of its Round of 16 tie with Le Mans with a big fourth quarter in the first-leg 79-63 home triumph and ended up winning the tie by 18 points on aggregate.
AS Monaco were more convincing in the Regular Season. Winners of 12 of 14 games to finish first in Group A, the Principality club avoided the Play-Off Qualifiers and came up against AEK in the Round of 16.
They lost the opener by just one point on the road.
Mitrovic's side returned to Monaco and won the second leg, 95-87. They led by as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter before easing home.
"I told my players, our next goal is the Final Four," Monaco coach Zvezdan Mitrovic said. "We have to go game by game."
What has added to the occasion for both AS Monaco and Dinamo Sassari has been the noise generated by the crowds. The Monaco players got a huge lift in the second leg, with Albert II, the Prince of Monaco, among their spectators.
"We fed off the crowd, both sides," Jamal Shuler said of the tie with AEK. "Their fans I think set the tone. Once the game (second leg) started, I was in shock and extremely proud of how our supporters came out. It was unbelievable and we fed off that."
Shuler, who hit a big 3-pointer late in the first leg, had 20 points and 6 rebounds in the decisive second game played in Monaco. He started the contest like a house on fire, burying a shot from the arc and drawing a foul. The shooting guard made the free-throw for a 4-point play and ended up scoring six more points in the frame.
He says the fans had gotten him fired up so he was ready to go from the opening tip.
"Me personally, everyone knows how I feel about this country, about the people here," he said. "So to see them show up, I wanted to get my team off to a good start and luckily that happened."
Shuler was terrific in both legs of the Round of 16 against AEK
Sassari will have to find a way to limit Shuler's contributions. He has not shied away from responsibility.
"In situations like this, I just try to tell myself this is what the the organization, the coaching staff, the president brought me here for is to help us make history, help us put Monaco basketball on the map," he said. "I put a lot on my shoulders in situations like this."
Sassari have played of European basketball the past few years, something that has allowed the club to make it as far as the Quarter-Finals. Club president Stefano Sardara spoke about that in a recent interview with the Basketball Champions League website.
"When you play in a European competition, experience plays a major role and I say that because we paid for our inexperience when we first took part in European competitions," he said.
The Sassari players like Dusko Savanovic have played in a lot of big games on the continent before. Will that experience be a determining factor in the two games against AS Monaco? Only time will tell.