Game Of The Week: Contenders Look To Rebound

Khimki Moscow Region hosts UNICS Kazan in the Game of the Week.

Khimki, 2014-15 VTB United League finalists, 2014-15 Eurocup champions
UNICS, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists

BCMO (capacity 4,000), Khimki, Russia

3:00 PM (3:00 PM MSK), March 13, 2016

Match TV, VTB-League.com

Face To Face
There's a rich history between these two elite Russian clubs. Take the 2010-11 season, when Khimki and UNICS played nine times, including at the VTB United League Final Four. Khimki won that game on Kazan's home court, going on to capture its lone VTB United League championship.

Khimki and UNICS were placed in the same regular season group during the 2011-12 season. Moscow Region came out on top again, knocking off UNICS twice by a combined total of six points. UNICS finally got a win during the 2012-13 season, defeating Khimki at the Basket Hall, 76-70, while Khimki picked up another victory at the BCMO.

UNICS and Khimki played in the Russian Cup semifinals in 2014 with Kazan advancing by a combined score of 152-138, ultimately winning the cup. Last season, the two clubs traded home wins. UNICS lost by 24 on the road, 80-56, before gaining revenge in the Tatar capital, 75-73.

Finally, we can't forget the first meeting of the 2015-16 season. UNICS squeaked out a victory at home, led by Keith Langord's 28 second-half points, 82-78.

First Encounter

Looking Back

These two title contenders have struggled in recent games. Khimki has lost three in a row, the team's worst-ever streak during the regular season. Rimas Kurtinaitis's club is also battling for a spot in the Euroleague quarterfinals, suffering a disappointing setback vs. Laboral Kutxa on Thursday. One week prior, Khimki did secure a win vs. Barcelona, before falling to Lokomotiv-Kuban over the weekend in the VTB United League. According to Kurtinaitis, the team didn't have time to prepare for that game. It's another quick turnaround on Sunday, but expect Khimki to give 110% as it seeks a huge win in front of the home fans.

While Khimki seeks to balance competing in two leagues, UNICS has been able to focus on the VTB United League in recent weeks after getting knocked out of the Eurocup. It's been a mixed bag thus far. UNICS lost big to CSKA a week ago, before bouncing back with a win over VEF on the road. Now Evgeny Pashutin's men have a huge opportunity in Moscow Region to defeat a rival and maintain their grip on 2nd place in the standings.

Can Khimki handle Keith Langford?

Langford put on a spectacular individual performance vs. Khimki earlier this season, scoring 34 points, including 28 in the second half. Kurtinaitis said after the game that it was Langford's best game in 10 years, prompting the UNICS guard to respond on Twitter: "Rimas, we both know that's not the case." On Sunday, he'll try to light up Khimki again, especially with rumors swirling that he's agreed to sign with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the summer...rumors which were later denied by his agent. For Khimki, stopping Langford will be a matter of pride and one of the keys to picking up a win.

Sergey Monia (Khimki) vs. Kostas Kaimakoglou (UNICS).

The duel between Langford and Khimki guard Alexey Shved will attract a lot of attention, not to mention the Tyrese Rice - Quino Colom matchup. But experience and leadership are often the difference in these types of games. For that reason, pay close attention to Monia and Kaimakoglou. Both are veterans and two of the league's toughest players.

With their backs against the wall, both teams need players to step up big. Khimki and UNICS will want leaders to set the tone on defense, knock down key shots and swing the momentum in their favor. Don't be surprised if Monia and Kaimakoglou do exactly that on Sunday.

Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis:
- James Augustine got injured. It came at a really bad time, right before the trip to Vitoria, where we really missed having one of our key big men. Now we're playing at home. We're facing a serious opponent, plus there was more time to prepare for UNICS. We'll do everything we can to win.

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
- We're battling for a top seed and every game is decisive for us right now. The game against Khimki is significant in every way. We need to play sticky defense for 40 minutes, battle on the glass and pay close attention to Khimki's leaders: Rice, Shved, Monia and Koponen.

- Both teams are a little down on themselves right now, - notes 1982 world champion and former UNICS head coach Stanislav Eremin. - Even if Khimki's players say everything is fine, it's easy to tell that the team is in a little disarray mentally because of the losing streak.

UNICS recently lost a key game to CSKA, plus they were eliminated very early from the Eurocup. I think the team that is stronger mentally entering the game will win. The rosters are roughly even in terms of talent. Kazan needs to do something against Khimki's wonderful backcourt and stifle the leaders on offense. Of course, Moscow Region has an advantage because it's at home. It should be a fascinating contest!