Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Avtodor Saratov in a regular-season meeting.
SIBUR Arena (capacity 7,120), St. Petersburg, Russia
7:30 PM (7:30 MSK), March 10, 2019
Match! Strana, VTB-League.com
Face to face
Zenit and Avtodor have played 15 times with St. Petersburg enjoying an 11-4 series lead. The teams traded road wins last season: 107-92 in Saratov and 93-79 in St. Petersburg.
Games between these two high-octane offenses tend to feature plenty of scoring. Zenit averages 91.1 points and Avtodor 85.3 in head-to-head meetings.
The first meeting between these clubs on December 15 in Saratov was unforgettable. Avtodor had started to find its way under new head coach Dusan Alimpijevic after a slow start to the season. Trailing by 19 points to the visitors, the Black and White managed to shift the momentum and come away with a shocking 95-94 win. Alimpijevic called the win “one of the most valuable of his coaching career.”
Zenit has struggled in recent months, posting a 5-5 record over the past 10 games, including back-to-back overtime losses to VEF (102-101) and Nizhny Novgorod (85-83). The northerners expect more from their team and Joan Plaza needs a win now. Zenit is in 6th place with a 10-7 record, but the goal of finishing in the top four and earning home-court advantage in the first round is still within reach.
Avtodor’s circumstances are more challenging. Saratov would simply like to reach the postseason. The team is 8th with an 8-10 record, needing every win it can get to fight off Kalev (8-10), Enisey (6-11) and VEF (6-13) for the final playoff berth. Every game is huge right now for Evgeny Pashutin’s men.
The week before
Zenit has already been knocked out of European competition and last played on March 1. St. Petersburg has had plenty of time to regroup following the international break, prepare for Sunday’s game and help Vladislav Trushkin, Sergey Karasev and Andrey Desyatnikov get up to speed after returning from injury.
Avtodor debuted in the FIBA Europe Cup playoffs on Wednesday. Saratov lost at home to Wurzburg, 79-76. The setback puts even more pressure on the team, which has struggled with consistency all season.
The first meeting between Zenit and Avtodor featured Vasily Karasev and Dusan Alimpijevic as head coaches. Both teams have made changes since. Joan Plaza has gone 5-3 in the VTB League since getting the job on December 22. Evgeny Pashutin returned to Saratov on January 30 and has a 2-3 record.
105 – average number of points scored by Avtodor in its last three League outings. Avtodor has scored at least 100 points against Zielona Gora (100-108), Kalev (112-109) and PARMA (105-93).
Jalen Reynolds vs. Artem Zabelin.
Reynolds is second in the League in scoring (17.2), first in rebounds (8.3) and efficiency rating (22.3). The Zenit leader recorded 17 points and 15 rebounds in the first meeting with Avtodor. On Sunday, one of the League’s most athletic players will try to make an impact in the paint vs. the Black and White.
Zabelin is enjoying the best season of his career. The center has avoided injuries and played in the All-Star Game, while also earning his first invite to the Russian national team. He was the star in Avtodor’s win over Zenit in December, recording 14 points on 5-6 shooting, six rebounds and four blocks. The match-up between these two big men should be a highlight of the Zenit – Avtodor showdown.
Zenit head coach Joan Plaza: “Avtodor is a very good team. We remember that Zenit lost in Saratov. This is the second-highest scoring team in the VTB United League and among the top three in field-goal attempts per game. The League’s best assist man, Trae Golden, plays on Avtodor’s roster. Saratov is good on the perimeter and isn’t afraid to shoot.
We lost the last two games in overtime, by one and two points, respectively. Even though we continue to have issues with injuries, I’m happy with our effort in practice. I think we deserve to get back on the winning track.”
Avtodor head coach Evgeny Pashutin: “Zenit is a balanced team that likes to push in transition and is very dangerous on the perimeter. Codi Miller-McIntyre orchestrates the St. Petersburg offense. No question, Jalen Reynolds presents the biggest threat on Zenit’s roster. He’s among the League leaders in scoring, efficiency rating and rebounds. Our job on defense is to stop the Zenit center under the basket, control the glass and not allow the home team to take open 3’s, which Armand, Simonovic, Scrubb, Uthoff, Voronov and Karasev shoot at a high rate. On offense, we have to play smart basketball, move the ball, use our opponent’s weaknesses and transition quickly on offense. Like usual, we’re playing only to win.”