Game Of The Week: Semifinal Tuneup?

UNICS Kazan hosts Lokomotiv-Kuban Krasnodar in the Game of the Week.

UNICS, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists
Lokomotiv-Kuban, 2014-15 VTB United League semifinalists

Basket Hall (capacity 7,000), Kazan, Russia

3:00 PM (3:00 PM MSK), April 3, 2016

Match TV, Match! Nash sport, United League TV

Face To Face
UNICS and Lokomotiv have met in the VTB League, Russian championship and Russian Cup, both in the regular season and postseason. The two teams even played for the first time in European competition last season, squaring off in the Eurocup quarterfinals. Krasnodar won the first game on the road, 87-78, but dropped the second game in Krasnodar by 19, 79-58, and was eliminated from the tourney.

The first meeting in the VTB United League came during the semifinals of the 2012 playoffs. Kazan guard Henry Domercant knocked down a jumper with two seconds remaining to give UNICS an 87-86 win. The Red-Greens got revenge the following season, crushing UNICS in the quarterfinals, 3-1, ultimately moving on to the playoff finals. During the 2014 Russian Cup, Kazan cruised in the two-game final series, 159-121, to pick up the title.

Lokomotiv won both regular-season meetings last year in the league: 74-72 in Krasnodar and 60-50 in Kazan. The teams also met in the playoff quarterfinals. Loko came out on top again, exacting revenge for the Eurocup loss with a 3-0 series sweep.

At the most recent meeting in December, UNICS snapped its losing streak vs. Kuban, hanging on for a nailbiting 58-56 win in Krasnodar. 

Kazan holds a 16-12 edge in the all-time series between these two clubs.

First Encounter

Looking Back


The regular-season champ has already been crowned: CSKA Moscow ran away with the title, clinching the #1 seed with almost a month to spare. But there's still plenty of intrigue left at the top of the standings. UNICS and Lokomotiv are currently 2nd and 3rd, respectively, with Zenit, Khimki and Avtodor nipping at their heels.

Why is finishing in 2nd or 3rd place so important? To start, Euroleague License A holder CSKA has played in every VTB United League final and is expected to be there again this season. Given the playoff bracket, either the 4th or 5th-place team is likely to face CSKA in the semifinals. As a result, the two teams in 2nd and 3rd can avoid meeting the reigning champs until the finals, which would guarantee a spot in the Euroleague, regardless of the outcome, assuming that CSKA is the opponent. 2nd place also means home-court advantage in the first two rounds of the postseason.

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin also spent two seasons with Lokomotiv-Kuban (2012-14) and has two former Railwaymen on his roster: Valery Likhodei and Anton Ponkrashov. Loko captain Sergey Bykov, meanwhile, played last season for Kazan.

Whose defense is better?

After the win in December, Pashutin said that UNICS has almost no chance in an up-tempo game vs. Loko. Kazan had a strict game plan: control the pace and make life miserable for Loko's leaders. Don't expect the White-Greens to adjust their strategy on Sunday.

At the same time, Georgios Bartzokas's defense-minded Krasnodar squad isn't likely to remind anyone of the Steve Nash Suns. These two teams combined for 114 points in Krasnodar and defense will almost certainly be a huge factor again in the Game of the Week.

Malcolm Delaney (Lokomotiv-Kuban) vs. Keith Langford (UNICS).

UNICS needed more than just defense in the win over Lokomotiv, getting 20 points from superstar guard Keith Langford, including several huge baskets down the stretch. Langford has been clutch this spring and erupted for 38 points in a recent Game of the Week victory vs. Khimki.

Delaney will have a similar task for Lokomotiv. One of the Euroleague's brightest stars, Delaney scored 18 in the loss to UNICS. Can he guide the Railwaymen to a crucial win on the road and outduel his Kazan rival?

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
- This is going to be an exciting game and should be intrigue basketball fans everywhere. We'll play from defense, since Lokomotiv is on the rise. We have to make it a physical game and prevent any open looks for Kuban's snipers on offense, not to mention the rebounding battle and controlling the rhythm. On offense, we have to find Kuban's weak spots. We'll play to win. 

Lokomotiv-Kuban head coach Georgios Bartzokas:
- UNICS has the talent and experience to contend for the VTB United League championship. Kazan is playing once a week, which gives them an opportunity to be well-prepared for important games. We have to play three games on the road, followed by the Euroleague playoffs. It's important to start this challenging stretch with a win and we'll try to do that in Kazan, even though it will be a very tough game.

- I know both teams well. I've played at both clubs, - notes CSKA forward Nikita Kurbanov. - Right now, I think that Lokomotiv will win. Krasnodar has momentum and a big collection of very strong players. But UNICS is playing at home and the fans will cheer them on. It should be a good battle.