Zenit St. Petersburg hosts UNICS Kazan in the Game of the Week.
SIBUR Arena (capacity 7,120), St. Petersburg, Russia
5:00 PM (5:00 MSK), December 8, 2018
VTB-League.com, Match! Nash Sport
Face to Face
Despite its short history, the Zenit – UNICS rivalry is one of the best in the league. Last season, Kazan took down St. Petersburg twice during the regular season, including a stunning 34-point win at home. Zenit, however, enjoyed sweet revenge, racing to a 93-79 win in the 3rd-place game at the Final Four. Let’s not forget the 2016 Playoffs, either, when UNICS survived an epic five-game semifinal series with Zenit to advance to the championship and book a spot in the EuroLeague.
Within the League, UNICS holds an 8-6 series lead.
After Russia picked up two key wins in World Cup 2019 qualifying, basketball fans have turned their attention back to the club game. On Saturday, the League’s 3rd and 4th-place teams (UNICS, 6-1 and Zenit, 5-2) will clash in St. Petersburg.
Zenit began the season with back-to-back defeats, but has since won five in a row. UNICS, meanwhile, is playing with trademark consistency under Dimitris Priftis. The team’s only loss in the League was against Khimki. Both of these teams need a win if they want to keep the pressure on undefeated CSKA and Khimki for one of the top two spots.
This is also the first meeting between the two teams since the bronze medal game in the Final Four. UNICS will be looking for revenge.
Balance of Power
The international window was an excellent chance for players and teams to rest and recover, though Zenit saw five players leave for national team duty: Evgeny Valiev, Sergey Karasev (Russia), Marko Simonovic (Serbia), Philip Scrubb (Canada) and Gal Mekel (Israel). UNICS lost only player to the Russian national team, Artem Klimenko.
St. Petersburg was not only better represented on the international stage–with the exception of Mekel, everyone played big minutes. Scrubb helped Canada punch a ticket to China (16 points, five rebounds, four assists vs. Venezuela and 15 points and six assists vs. Brazil). Simonovic and Valiev were key contributors for Serbia and Russia, while Sergey Karasev injured his back in Russia’s first game and missed the team’s second outing.
UNICS center Artem Klimenko only played in Russia’s win over the Czech Republic.
Jackie Carmichael. During the international window, UNICS signed Carmichael. The forward has already played one game in the League this season, suiting up for Avtodor vs. Kazan and recording 14 points and six rebounds.
If Priftis gives him an opportunity, the 28-year-old American will do everything he can to make another positive impression on the coaching staff and White and Green fans.
Jalen Reynolds vs. Maurice Ndour.
The Zenit forward narrowly missed out on the League’s November MVP to Nando De Colo. He’s explosive, strong and extremely dangerous in the paint. Kazan center Maurice Ndour also has an impressive hairdo, but may not be quite as strong as Reynolds. He makes up for it with speed and quickness. The two dreaded big men will be at the center of attention in Saturday’s Game of the Week.
Vladislav Trushkin played for UNICS last season and wants to impress on Saturday. Evgeny Voronov spent two seasons in Kazan (2008-09, 2016-17).
The White and Green feature two ex-Zenit players: Pavel Sergeev (2016-17) and Andrey Koshcheev (2014-16).
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev: “We have a very tough game ahead. UNICS kept the core of its roster intact, added new pieces and continues to pursue free agents. The fact that Kazan did not have international call-ups and could practice as a full squad will work to their advantage. We had five players join national teams. We weren’t able to prepare fully. Yesterday was our first practice with the entire roster. We are used to challenges; the important thing is to leave everything on the court.”
UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis: “No question, this will be a tough game against a very good team. Zenit is multi-dimensional and can score a lot of points under any conditions. They score a lot. We need to stop their ball movement and win with defense.”