Avtodor Searching For Momentum vs. Red-Hot UNICS

Avtodor Saratov hosts UNICS Kazan in the Game of the Week.

Avtodor, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists
UNICS, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists

Kristall Sports Palace (capacity 5,500), Saratov, Russia

4:00 PM (4:00 PM MSK), February 14, 2016

Match! Nash sport, United League TV

Face To Face
UNICS and Avtodor met for the first time in the VTB United League in Week 2 of the 2014-15 season. Saratov led by seven with two and a half minutes to play, but a 10-0 UNICS run crushed the visitors' upset hopes and Kazan went on to win, 81-78. When the two teams met again in January, Avtodor was riding high and looked like a legitimate playoff team. Playing at home, Saratov blasted the Tatar club by 18, 87-69, outgunning and outhustling UNICS.

The third meeting between these clubs was decided at the buzzer. After several lead changes in the final minutes, the game nearly went to overtime. Saratov had an excellent chance to knot the score, but Keith Langford swooped in at the last second, swatting away Evgeny Kolesnikov's layup attempt to preserve the 66-64 victory.

First Encounter

Looking Back

Avtodor started the season strong, but has struggled in recent weeks, missing out on the Eurocup playoffs and suffering three straight losses in the league. As a result, management recently made a second change at head coach, bringing in Vladimir Antsiferov as interim to replace Alexey Vasilyev. The Black-Whites desperately need a win to relieve the pressure and get a fresh start to the campaign.

It won't be easy. Saratov is playing host to an extremely talented Kazan club. Unlike Avtodor, UNICS breezed through the Eurocup Last-32 and has won 11 straight in the league. With only two losses so far this season, UNICS could make matters even worse for Avtodor in the Volga derby. The Tatar club trails CSKA by two games for the top playoff seed and can't afford a setback to have any chance of catching the Army Men.

Kazan plays well at home and on the road, but don't underestimate the Kristall Sports Palace effect. Avtodor is much more aggressive in front of its boisterous, energized fans. With their backs against the wall, can Saratov take advantage of the home-court advantage and spring an upset vs. UNICS? We'll find out soon!

Will Jeff Brooks and Keith Langford play?

The UNICS leader hasn't played in February because of a knee and back injury, but started practicing again this week. Head coach Evgeny Pashutin said he hoped Langford would be able to shake off some rust against Olimpija in the Eurocup prior to the road game in Saratov, but Langford ultimately did not appear in the contest. Even if he does make a return on Sunday, it's tough to know how much he'll be able to contribute after his extended absence.

While Langford is crucial to Kazan's long-term goals for the season, the team has plenty enough depth to compete without him. Avtodor, on the other hand, could struggle against UNICS if Jeff Brooks is not able to play. Like Langford, the American forward suffered an injury in late January. The team needs him on the court, but it's difficult to predict whether or not he'll be ready in time for this showdown.

Paul Stoll (Avtodor) vs. Quino Colom (UNICS).

The two star point guards are second on their teams in efficiency rating and rank in the league's top-6 for assists. They love to share the ball, but can also score points in a hurry. The matchup between the explosive Stoll and reliable Colom, both native Spanish speakers, adds a flair to this Volga derby.

Avtodor interim head coach Vladimir Antsiferov:
- This will be one of the biggest and most important games of the season. UNICS has a high-quality team and is on a roll. Kazan has a lot of individually talented players, but also plays together well as a team, which has led to the impressive winning streak.

We are preparing very responsibly for the game. The attitude on the team is good. We'll try to avoid making mistakes and play our game. We look forward to the support of the fans.

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
- It's going to be a serious battle. Avtodor plays aggressive basketball at home. The team can really run the fast break. Our job will be to stay focused for all 40 minutes, ride our defense and control the tempo.

- I think UNICS will win in the end, - shared Sergei Chikalkin, former Avtodor and UNICS player. - Of course, Saratov is tough at home and can beat anyone, but Kazan has better talent on the roster, which is why I think the visitors from Tatarstan will win. In any case, we should expect a fascinating game!