Game Of The Week: Battle On The Volga

Nizhny Novgorod hosts Avtodor Saratov in the Game of the Week.

Nizhny Novgorod, 2014-15 VTB United League semifinalists
Avtodor, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists

Nizhny Novgorod Trade Union Sports Palace (capacity 5,500), Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

6:30 PM (6:30 PM MSK), January 24, 2016

NTV+, Match TV, United League TV

Face To Face
These two teams played for the first time last season. Both regular-season meetings were extremely competitive, though Nizhny Novgorod came out on top twice, winning in overtime at home (91-85) and on the road (93-88). Avtodor got some revenge earlier this season, beating Nizhny in Saratov (94-86).

Looking Back

Nizhny Novgorod was favored last season. Coming off a runner-up finish in the VTB United League, Nizhny enjoyed a terrific regular season, including earning a spot in the Euroleague Top 16. Saratov, on the other hand, was making its league debut.

The tables have turned a little this season. Alexey Vasilyev's men are off to a 9-5 start and lead Nizhny by two and a half games in the standings. Both clubs are also competing in the Eurocup playoffs, where they share identical 1-2 records.

Saratov would love to sweep the season series vs. Nizhny and keep pressure on 4th-place Zenit. The team signed ex-Thunder and Spurs guard Reggie Williams in early January, who's expected to make his debut on Sunday.

Nizhny, meanwhile, lost Kaspars Berzins to Zenit a few days ago, though the front office promises to bring in reinforcements as soon as possible.

Nizhny Novgorod captain Semyon Antono started his career at Avtodor, while Nizhny guard Ivan Strebkov played for Avtodor from 2013-14 when the team competed in the Superleague.

Will Nizhny capitalize on its home-court advantage?

Nizhny Novgorod board chairman said in a recent interview that his team won't enjoy success if the players don't give 100% and play with emotion. But that's tough to do when you don't have your fans cheering you on. Both these teams have had a lot of success at home (Nizhny is 5-2, Avtodor is 6-2). Nizhny even knocked off CSKA and Khimki at the Sports Palace early in the season.

In the same interview, Panov also said that no one at Nizhny is giving up and that it's too early to write the team off. There will be a big crowd and a great atmosphere at the game on Sunday. If Nizhny can break through with a win against a rival it could get the team back on track. The stakes are high!

Victor Rudd (Nizhny Novgorod) vs. Jeff Brooks (Avtodor).

Rudd and Brooks are key players for their respective teams, even if they aren't the biggest stars. Rudd has started every game for Nizhny and averages a 16.4 efficiency rating. Brooks has started every game for Avtodor and averages a 16.8 efficiency rating. Both are athletic and can play at several positions, including power forward. On Sunday, these two will square off in the Volga derby. You can bet the battle between Brooks and Rudd will be physical and intense.

Nizhny Novgorod head coach Ainars Bagatskis:
- This is a very tough and important game for us. Avtodor was a good team in October, when we lost to them in Saratov. They've only improved since then. It's a very quick, aggressive team which will likely only improve with the arrival of another American. It's probably useless to try to play at their pace, so we'll take a different approach.

Avtodor head coach Alexey Vasilyev:
- After several losses in the Eurocup, we need to pick up a win in order to regain our rhythm. We have a tough game on Sunday against a serious opponent, although Nizhny has had some trouble with its roster. At home, I know they can beat absolutely anyone. Nizhny Novgorod's last win came against Olimpia. Semyon Antonov played extremely well in that game. Vladimir Ivlev has also played well this season.

- I give the advantage to Nizhny in this Volga derby, - says former Russian national team center Fedor Likholitov. - The game will be on Nizhny Novgorod's home court, so the support of the fans will be a big factor. I think Nizhny's leaders will play extremely well--Semyon Antonov, surprise star Victor Rudd and the reliable Rasid Mahalbasic.