Week 23 In Review: CSKA Suffers First Home Loss, Donewald Stopped By Khimki

Week 23 In Review: CSKA Suffers First Home Loss, Donewald Stopped By Khimki

There’s less than a month left in the regular season and all signs point to a thrilling finish.

UNICS beats CSKA for the second time this season

Kazan traveled to Moscow short-handed: Both American stars Errick McCollum and Pierria Henry were unavailable. But UNICS looked sharp without its two starting guards, relying on defense to slow down the Army Men. 

Kazan had to come from behind to win, using a 12-2 run to close out the game. Anton Ponkrashov hit the biggest shot of the game. The guard went 1-12 in the first 38 minutes of the game, but showed no fear banking in a clutch 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. 

With the victory, UNICS sweeps CSKA for the first time in 10 seasons in the League. “Our opponent deserved to win. They were the better team today. We didn’t allow UNICS to go on a run at the end, our opponent seized the win.” CSKA head coach Dimitris Itoudis gave Kazan its due following the game. 

UNICS’s win significantly changes the postseason picture. CSKA had a chance to virtually clinch the #1 seed, but now everything depends on Kazan. If the Tatar club wins its final five games, it will finish the regular season in 1st place. 

Dunk of the week

Anton Ponkrashov to Maurice Ndour is becoming a Kazan tradition. 

Khimki leaves Krasnodar with a win and the tiebreaker

After dropping three straight in February, Khimki is moving back up the standings and has almost clinched 3rd place after a win over Lokomotiv on the road. Moscow Region now holds a two-game lead on Krasnodar and enjoys an easier schedule to close out the season. Plus, even if the two teams finish tied, Khimki has the tiebreaker thanks to a superior point differential in head-to-head meetings. 

Loko could have won. Kuban kept Khimki within check throughout the game. Dmitry Kulagin was one of the best players on the court and knocked down this unbelievable shot to end the 3rd quarter:

Several minutes later, he dunked, bringing Loko within a single possession. 

But Jordan Mickey was the star on Monday. He ripped down a huge offensive rebound and scored while getting fouled on the put-back to give Khimki an 87-83 win. 

Khimki has practically guaranteed 3rd place, but now there’s a good chance the Yellow and Blue would face CSKA in the semifinals, should Moscow finish behind UNICS in the standings.

Loko’s new coach demonstrated in Minsk how he plans to change his team’s style of play 

Bob Donewald replaced Vlade Jovanovic a week and a half ago as head coach of Lokomotiv-Kuban. The American coach passed his first test in Minsk. Tsmoki tried to pull off a repeat of last year’s upset vs. Krasnodar, but the visitors had no trouble cruising to a 97-66 win. Center Moustapha Fall played one of his best games of the season: 

Lokomotiv dished out 28 assists on 37 field goals, an impressive number, which Donewald also noted in his post-game commentary. Kuban captain Vitaly Fridzon told VTB-League.com about his team’s new style of play and the atmosphere in the locker room: 

Vitaly Fridzon: There’s more energy and freedom with Loko’s new coach 

Astana breaks club record for wins

22 games in the League’s Season X was all Astana needed to set a new club record for wins at 14. On Saturday, the Kazakh club took down PARMA at home and clinched a playoff berth. Astana led by 15 points most of the game and closed out a 79-71 victory without much trouble.

“I’m proud of my players, coaches and the entire staff. I hope the fans see that they have a truly special team in the city and that it deserves support,” Astana head coach Emil Rajkovic did not hide his emotions after the record win.

Zenit stretches winning streak to four games

Zenit has been on a rollercoaster all season. A five-game winning streak was followed by three straight losses, while the club’s surge in January and February fizzled out with several surprising defeats. But Joan Plaza’s men bounced back again with four straight wins, matching the longest winning streak in the League.

On Saturday, Zenit got off to a fast start against Tsmoki-Minsk in front of 5,000 fans at the SIBUR Arena. To the Belarusians’ credit, they nearly erased a 23-point deficit in the 4th quarter. Aliaksandr Semianiuk’s dunk made it a six-point game. Happily for the home fans, Zenit cut the comeback short this time. 

Jalen Reynolds was the driving force for St. Petersburg, putting on a dunk show and scoring several big baskets down the stretch. He finished with a double-double of 17 points, 10 rebounds.

This win allowed Zenit to clinch a postseason berth, but St. Petersburg probably has bigger ambitions. 3rd and 4th-place Khimki and Loko are within reach and Zenit could move up the standings with some help.

Kalev streaking toward first postseason berth

Kalev is close to making its first-ever VTB League playoffs. With a month to go in the season, Tallinn leads 9th-place Saratov by one win with a game in hand. 

On Thursday, Kalev earned a valuable win in Poland. The Estonians were too much for Zielona Gora and set a new club record with 117 points. The team’s Philly duo of Arnett Moultrie and Tony Wroten combined for 56 points in the victory. The former Process participants appear to be peaking at the right time: 

Kalev has more work to do. Avtodor is desperate to return to the postseason and the Estonians need to pick up as many wins as possible over the next five games. It won’t be easy with games vs. UNICS, Zenit, Nizhny and Loko. 

Enisey trips up Nizhny Novgorod

Nizhny has been one of the League’s best teams in recent months, entering the weekend on a four-game winning streak with hopes of catching 6th-place Astana. A setback in Krasnoyarsk, however, put the brakes on Nizhny’s momentum. 

Enisey, for its part, ended a five-game losing streak, 92-88.

Enisey was led by D’Angelo Harrison. The eccentric guard scored 19 points in the first half, knocking down this deep 3-pointer at the buzzer: 

Harrison finished with a career-high 27 points and gave Krasnoyarsk its first win since the end of January.

Nizhny’s loss may have been the result of a busy schedule. In addition to a frantic finish in the VTB League, the Volga club is competing in the Champions League and on the verge of a Final Four. Once Zoran Lukic’s men wrap up their European campaign, they will be able to focus 100% on the League.

Avtodor nearly falls at home

Avtodor is in trouble. With five games to go, they trail Kalev by one win. On Sunday, Evgeny Pashutin’s hosted Zielona Gora and barely escaped against the League rookies. The Poles are desperate to get back in the win column and played their best offense of the season. 

Avtodor was on the verge of being upset, if not for Trae Golden. The guard had an unbelievable game, putting up career-highs in points (31), assists (13) and efficiency rating (46, 4th-best in League history). This is Golden’s second straight game with 30+ points and 10+ assists. 

Avtodor is still alive in the playoff race, but any loss would deal a serious blow to the team’s hopes. 

Team of the week

Trae Golden helped Avtodor defeated Zielona Gora, finished with a ridiculous 46 efficiency rating.
UNICS defeated CSKA on the road and Jamar Smith scored a super-efficient 15 points.
D’Angelo Harrison played his best game of the season, helping Enisey take down Nizhny Novgorod.
Jordan Mickey was close to a double-double and added four blocks in Krasnodar.
Arnett Moultrie doesn’t shoot from outside, but that didn’t stop him from scoring 30 against Zielona Gora. 


UNICS only trails CSKA in number of wins, Astana and Zenit clinched playoff spots and five teams are still battling for the final two spots.