Saratov celebrates signature win

Avtodor Saratov defeated Khimki Moscow Region at home, 101-76. The home team dominated from start to finish, adding to its lead each quarter to pick up a huge victory and snap Khimki's 11-game winning streak. The league rookies now have wins against Lokomotiv-Kuban, UNICS and Khimki.

One of the highlights of today's game was Khimki forward Sergey Monia's return to Saratov, the city that made him into a star. It's been more than a decade since Monia wore an Avtodor jersey, but the fans haven't forgot what he did for the club and welcomed their legend by selling out today's game. Prior to tip-off Avtodor president Vladimir Rodionov presented Monia with the league's Russian player of the month award from December, while Avtodor guard Courtney Fortson picked up the December MVP honor.

Four months ago, Khimki blew out Avtodor at home in Week 1. Since then, Khimki has won 13 of 14 games to enter today's contest at 14-1, 2nd in the league. Avtodor struggled initially, losing seven of its first nine games, but has found a rhythm over the last two months, improving to 8-9, including wins over UNICS and Lokomotiv-Kuban.

The 1st quarter was very tight. Avtodor went to Kyrylo Fesenko early and often, while Micah Downs also had an impact. Khimki answered back with Tyrese Rice, who was terrific driving to the basket. Downs gave Avtodor a 19-16 lead at the buzzer to cap an exciting first 10 minutes.

The tempo picked up in the 2nd quarter and both teams started to heat up on offense. The Saratov crowd came alive and Avtodor fed off the energy, closing the half with 3-pointers from Travis Peterson and Jeremy Chappell. Chappell also had a steal and fast-break dunk, giving the home team a 50-41 advantage at halftime.

Saratov picked up where it left off in the 3rd quarter. Avtodor drilled four 3-pointers, including two from Alexey Vzdykhalkin. Midway through the period, Avtodor led by as much as 16 points.

Khimki refused to back down. Rimas Kurtinaitis's men got straightened out on defense and rode Rice and Petteri Koponen at the other end to cut into the deficit. With two minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Rice knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a 66-62 game.

But Saratov had an answer. Saratov's perimeter snipers and Fesenko in the paint helped the home team close the quarter on an 8-2 run and take a 10-point lead into the final period.

Turning Point
Five straight points from Fesenko and Downs's hot shooting made it a 16-point game early in the final period. This time Khimki wasn't able to respond. Moscow Region fell further and further behind, while the Kristall Sports Palace rang out with cheers of "Avtodor, Avtodor". The final minutes were pure celebration in Saratov as the home team celebrated its signature win of the season. The league rookies put 101 points on Khimki and adds the Moscow Region club to its growing list of VTB United League victims.

Star of the Game
Kyrylo Fesenko. The Ukrainian big man is putting up huge numbers this season. He went 8-12 from the field, recording 23 points and 13 rebounds to neutralize the Khimki frontcourt.

Stat of the Game
15 - Avtodor drilled 15 3-pointers on 32 attempts. The productive perimeter shooting kept Khimki on the back heel all evening and freed up space for Fesenko in the paint.

Avtodor head coach Sergei Mokin:
- We managed to stop Khimki on offense today. We didn't let them hit their average. That's why we won. At the end, we just finished the game off and played for the fans. Of course, we didn't expect to win by so much. The final margin of victory doesn't correspond to our actual level. After all, Khimki is a very strong team. We're happy that we managed to defeat another favorite. We haven't had a single game where we gave up or didn't play to the end.

Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis:
- I'd like to congratulate Avtodor on a very good game. We were clearly weaker in terms of energy and desire and effort. In a word, we lost in every component of the game. That may have been tied to our previous game, a solid win over PAOK in the Eurocup. Our playes might have thoguht that the game in Saratov would be easier. A lack of focus and an absence of desire led to this result. We didn't compete very well. We only grabbed four offensive rebounds and gave up 18. That's a big problem. Avtodor won because it battled harder. Who played better: Rice or Fortson? Judging by the statistics, Rice scored more, but Fortson did a better job running the offense. He also played good defense and set a good tempo for his team for 40 minutes. We remembered from the Russian Cup last season that Fortson is a dangerous player. We had the same problems then that we did today.

Top Performers
Kyrylo Fesenko - 23 points, 13 rebounds; Jeremy Chappell - 17 points; Micah Downs - 16 points, five assists; Alexey Vzdykhalkin - 16 points; Courtney Fortson - 15 points, eight rebounds, eight assists; Travis Peterson - nine points, five rebounds.

Khimki: Petteri Koponen - 21 points; Tyrese Rice - 19 points; Paul Davis - 11 points; James Augustine - six points, seven rebounds.