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Luxol wary of Athleta’s mentality as Louis Borg Cup tips off

Gżira’s Nathan Xuereb goes for the basket despite the challenge of Nikola Vusevic. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Depiro face familiar opposition in club’s amateur side

The Louis Borg quarterfinals tip off on Friday with three first-leg games taking place at the Ta’ Qali pavilion. 

BUPA Luxol start things off with a fixture against Gżira Athleta (tip-off: 12.00), Depiro facing amateur league side Depiro Hoops (tip-off: 14.00), and finally Division 1 leaders Mellieha Libertas taking on bottom side Hibernians (tip-off: 16.00).

With many predicting the opening game to be the one to watch, both sides will be hoping to take as large a lead as possible ahead of their second leg on Sunday. 

Despite having beaten them in their previous two encounters, Luxol coach Duncan Fenech believes Athleta’s strong mentality will be the main threat over the two games.

“I’m expecting a very tough weekend,” Fenech said.

“We’ve faced Athleta in the Shield and we had already played another few games where we did very badly against them, and they were also with just one import player at the time. So, the fact that we managed to take those two wins doesn’t make us superior to them.

“Actually, we need to be wary of Athleta’s mentality. I believe the mental approach that Gżira has will be their main threat – they just never give up. They’ve won games after being down a lot of points so we can’t underestimate them at all.”

Luxol have had a productive season so far, with the possibility of them heading into the postseason looking very likely this far into the season. However, Fenech admits his team is still not as consistent as it should be.

“(Our position) helps but because we’ve added new components to our team, it was not a case of adding to what we had before but rather starting over in certain aspects,” Fenech explained.

“We needed time to get a feel of things and I think we’ve gotten better. There is going to be that pressure of facing a team twice within 48 hours and we need to be able to tackle that.

“That preparation to fight until the end of each game is looking better but obviously, more needs to be done. This comes from the different personalities with different capabilities who are still getting used to each other. My team is full of role players so for them to adapt and find their space, sometimes this can be difficult.”

Brothers on opposite sides

In the day’s second fixture, Depiro’s Division 1 team faces the club’s Amateur League side Depiro Hoops. While the latter currently lead the second tier, the former could be on the verge of earning that unexpected final playoff spot in spite of them starting the season with reduced points, and switching coaches midway through the season.

While the level will naturally be a dividing factor, the most interesting matchup will be the sides’ coaches – brothers Ruben and Adrian Baldacchino. 

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Depiro coach Ruben Baldacchino embraced this opportunity while insisting concentration will be the main focus nonetheless.

“It will be the first time I face my brother Adrian who will be coaching against me,” he explained. 

“I’m honestly looking forward to it as I know he’s well prepared for each game – he has great potential.”

Asked about the expectations ahead of the weekend’s games, Ruben Baldacchino said there is respect between both teams but winning will remain his focus.

“We have respect for Depiro Hoops as they are having a great season in the Amateur League, unbeaten so far in league competition. But we will go onto the court fully concentrated. 

“The atmosphere (within the team) is the same as when I took them over – we focus on winning the game and we play a calculated game. Of course, coming from a good winning streak strengthens team morale. 

“Now, I’m expecting to keep the momentum. We are in the most important part of the season, fighting for a playoff place and we are also looking to win the Louis Borg Cup.”

Winning culture

In the final game of the afternoon, high-flying Mellieha Libertas face struggling Hibs. While on paper, this may sound like a mismatch, Mellieha coach Christian Narciso believes the Paolites can cause problems for his side.

“We have always had close games with (Hibs) apart from the Shield. The key will be our approach as we’ve been building our success on defence,” Narciso said.

“We face a Hibernians team that will try their best in this LB Cup to give meaning to their season and we know that we have to prepare for the two games in detail as they are a very solid, well-coached team, that is always playing close games and we respect them a lot.

“(Ivan) Demcesen is creating problems for the whole league with his size and great touch, and (Justin) Bogle is playing a great season alongside Maltese (Anton) Axiaq, (Luke) Farrugia, the Attard brothers and lately also Neil Cassar. 

“We will adapt to their game, trying to force them into uncomfortable situations.”

Mellieha have been the frontrunners of the men’s league for a number of weeks and look the most likely to take the top seed in this year’s playoffs. 

“The goal of the club this season is to build a family and grow the community after the good last seasons,” the Libertas coach remarked.

“The season has gone better than expected and we are trying to install a winning culture so we are preparing for every game as if it was a final.

“The guys love to compete and this spirit together with the amazing players that love to share their time together, and whom I am lucky to coach, are bringing these results. Luckily, the president understood the load the players have and the arrival of Sebastian Valencia helps us in that order of ideas.

“We had a big rotation all season long – we lead the league in minutes and points from the bench. The Maltese players showed they can play an important role.”

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