Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D. Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D.Repečka
Credit: BasketNews/D. Repečka

For everyone in AX Armani Exchange Milan that Cory Higgins’ shot is still a vivid memory. It hurt back then, and it still does now. That shot denied Milan the possibility to play in the EuroLeague final and, probably, it also erased the mental energy that the team still needed to compete in the Italian league.

3-pointers this season

39%
8,6
Points made: 8,6
Accuracy: 39,5%
Place in standings: 8
Record max: 14
Record min: 5
Most made 3FGs: Nikola Mirotic

Milan ended up losing the Serie A final against Virtus Bologna 0-4. Those two losses left a mark on everyone involved in the club: players, coaches, and management.

Quoting Michael Jordan’s words in ‘The Last Dance’, it became personal with them. 

On Thursday, Milan will face Barcelona once again, and the game between the two teams is probably one of the most anticipated of this initial part of the EuroLeague regular season.

Both teams are at the top of the competition with a 6-1 record, and Milan is looking to avenge the heavy losses suffered against Barcelona in the past regular season.

The team coached by Ettore Messina lost both regular-season games against Barcelona in the past season by 16 points, 87-71 in Barcelona and 72-56 in Milan. 

But in this initial part of the season, Armani Exchange have been a real force and the gap with Barcelona looks way smaller than last season. Milan’s defense has been nothing short of impressive.

They have a 6-0 record when they keep their opponents below 80 points and, as of right now, they’re the fifth-best defense in the EuroLeague.

Their interior defense is number one in the competition, allowing only 49% from the field to their opponents. Moreover, Milan allows the fewest assists in the competition to their opponents, just 12.57 per game. 

With these impressive defensive stats, Milan will wait for Barcelona, one of the best offensive teams in the EuroLeague.

The Spanish side is averaging 81.1 points per game, as of right now, the best number in the competition. They’re also shooting with an impressive 39.4% from the three-point line, the second-best team in the EuroLeague. 

"You always want to play this kind of game. It is going to be really tough and physical. Milano is one of the best teams in Europe", said coach Sarunas Jasikevicius to present the game against the Italian team. 

"They are so physical and big. Their forwards can play as 4. We would have to stop their three-point threat, they are the best in Europe", Jasikevicius continued.

Meanwhile, Messina remembered last season's battles and admitted that Thursday's game will be a big test for his team.

“Last season, we suffered against them,” coach Messina said after Milan’s win in the Italian league against Sassari. “It’s true that during the season, we reduced the gap, but they play with a level of physicality and intensity that will test our ball moving.” 

The Mediolanum Forum will be packed. All the tickets available for the game (in Italy, indoor arenas are currently allowed to have 60% of their original capacity) are already gone and the excitement in the city is clear. Everyone wants to see a statement game from Olimpia. 

Shavon Shields, one of the main elements of Olimpia Milan, was in Cologne for that Final Four game against Barcelona. He had 13 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist, but he also saw Cory Higgins score over him the winning shot. 

“There’s a thin line between winning and losing,” Shield said in a recent interview with Basketnews. “A missed shot, a box out, that day, unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of it,” he recalled. 

Coach Ettore Messina introduced the game, explaining how humble Milan has to be in this kind of matchup.

“We have to use this game to understand how and where we need to grow as a team. We have to be aggressive, but at the same time, we need to be humble”, the coach and president of basketball operations said.

Sergio Rodriguez, one of the two co-captains of the team, said that the presence of the fans might be a game-changer for Milan.

“It’s a very important game for us because last season we were never able to beat Barcelona. We were beaten on three different occasions, but this time we’ll have our fans supporting us. This will be a great opportunity to understand our level against one of the contenders for the title”, said El Chacho. 

As a regular-season game, of course, this match won’t change much for both teams’ ambitions. Still, it’s clear how important of a test this will be for Milan because beating Barcelona would mean that the learning process of this team is going faster than expected and might represent a little revenge for that loss in Cologne. 

“Oh man, it hurts me even talk about it sometimes,” Kevin Punter recalled in a recent interview with Basketnews, talking about the shot he missed right before Cory Higgins’ game-winner in the Euroleague semifinal. “Mirotic jumped on my pump fake... and then I shot, just like every other shot. And it just said not today, I’m not going in tonight”.

Punter is no longer in Milan, he joined Partizan Belgrade during the offseason, but the pain was definitely present in his words, as it’s still is in many of Milan’s players.

And that pain, that disappointment, has been one of the main foundations for this season because no one in Olimpia wants to go through that kind of frustration once again.

Last season finished with anger, this time, Milan wants to finish with happiness, joy, and some champagne.

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AX Armani Exchange Milan
FC Barcelona
46%
6 Position
Field goals
49%
2 Position
34,00
9 Position
Rebounds
34,86
6 Position
18,14
3 Position
Assists
17,86
4 Position
5,71
13 Position
Steals
7,71
6 Position

Teams leaders

Shavon  Shields
12,7 PTS
51% 2P%
32% 3P%
Nikola  Mirotic
16,3 PTS
63% 2P%
46% 3P%
Kyle  Hines
5,7 REB
3,6 DREB
2,1 OREB
Nick  Calathes
5,6 REB
4,9 DREB
0,7 OREB
Sergio  Rodriguez
4,4 As
1,6 TO
18 MIN
Nick  Calathes
5,4 As
2,3 TO
26 MIN