The 2018 Final Four teams are holding their first practices on the VTB Ice Palace court 24 hours prior to the semifinals. Zenit and CSKA have already tested the rims and the brand-new parquet, then took questions from the media.
Zenit guard Evgeny Voronov: The Final Four is a lottery. History shows that many regular season champions fail to win the title. Anything can happen in one game.
I think we have an advantage in being the underdog vs. CSKA. There won’t be a lot of pressure on us, so everything will be fine.
Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev: The key to tomorrow’s game is defense. But against a team like CSKA, defense is not enough. CSKA is going to score regardless. We need to be loose on offense. If we hit our shots, the game should be interesting.
We don’t have a lot of players who have been in a Final Four before, so one of the challenges is handling the nerves and responsibility. The win over CSKA during the season works to our advantage. It’s very important for the guys to understand that CSKA can be beat. We had time to prepare for the Final Four. The game will show how well we’ve prepared.
CSKA forward Nikita Kurbanov: The atmosphere on the team is what it should be. We understand that the Final Four format is dangerous, so no one plans on taking it easy. Everyone wants to win the VTB League. We lost to Zenit on the road in the winter, which gives us extra motivation. We know that the outcome depends only on us. We’re looking forward to tomorrow.
CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis: There was a long break between the quarterfinals and the Final Four, which isn’t very good. But we have real pros on the team and we are taking the upcoming games very seriously.
Every team can beat CSKA in any game, not to mention the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors. Anything can happen this time too. I prefer a standard playoffs with a final series. It’s a more honest format, but right now I need to think about how to win the championship in the Final Four.
Khimki guard Egor Vyaltsev: UNICS is a well-coached and organized team with a nice collection of players. They have snipers, playmakers, athletic big men who can rebound and defend. It’s a balanced squad. There’s a reason they made the Final Four.
For us, the game vs. UNICS is an opportunity to reach the final and battle for a championship. Winning a spot in the EuroLeague is a secondary factor, though also relevant. We are preparing for a concrete game, where our own performance will be the key factor. We need to execute our coach’s game plan, be focused and not think about anything else.
Khimki head coach Georgios Bartzokas: I’m very happy we get to take on a team like UNICS. Strategy has a huge impact in games like these, so the match-up is extremely important to me. UNICS is an excellent team with a big rotation and experienced players like Lasme and Colom. We have a very tough game on our hands.
I really like the arena. Everything is being run at the highest level. I hope our games can match it.
UNICS guard Anton Ponkrashov: Khimki is a top-tier team. In order to understand what this team is like, all you need to see is the EuroLeague series vs. CSKA. As for us, we have strengths, which we are improving. We understand very well what we need to do to beat Khimki. We have a plan and we hope to bring it to life.
The arena itself is very cool. That was obvious from the pictures and I can feel it now. I’d love to see what a sellout looks like here.
UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis: Above all, I’m happy we’re playing in the Final Four. We had a strong regular season and deserved to be one of the top four teams.
The game with Khimki is a serious test of character. The team had a good showing in the EuroLeague and boasts the wonderful Alexey Shved. But we can compete with them. We need to stay focused and play well on defense.