Zenit Hunting 3rd, UNICS Seeks Statement Win

Zenit St. Petersburg hosts UNICS Kazan in the Game of the Week.

Zenit, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists
UNICS, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists

SIBUR Arena (capacity 7,044), St. Petersburg, Russia

3:00 PM (3:00 PM MSK), April 24, 2016

Match TV, Match! Nash sport, United League TV

Face To Face
Zenit and UNICS began their rivalry last season, trading home wins during the regular season. They also met twice in the Eurocup Last 32, with Kazan picking up a pair of victories to finish 1st in the group. Zenit, nonetheless, also advanced to the next round, taking 2nd place.

The first meeting in 2016 went to UNICS. The White-Greens opened on a 20-3 run, cruising to a commanding 101-66 victory at home.

First Encounter

Looking Back

While UNICS has already clinched 2nd place in the regular season, Zenit is still battling for a spot in the top-four and home-court advantage in the first round. With a win vs. UNICS and Lokomotiv-Kuban on Thursday, St. Petersburg would finish 3rd and avoid a potential 2nd-round matchup with top seed CSKA. A loss to UNICS, however, automatically drops Zenit to 5th regardless of Thursday's outcome.

How will UNICS approach Sunday's matchup?

There's no doubting Kazan's competitive spirit. But the team is unlikely to kill itself on the SIBUR Arena court against a highly motivated opponent, having already clinched the two-seed. UNICS hopes to play its best basketball, stay in rhythm and pick up a win on the road, but it won't be a tragedy if Zenit comes out on top. Evgeny Pashutin is likely to give his stars some extra rest and test his back-up players, possibly handing St. Petersburg an edge on Sunday.

Janis Timma (Zenit) vs. Arturas Milaknis (UNICS).

The Game of the Week features a juicy duel between Baltic stars: Timma and Milaknis and the battle at small forward will likely have a big impact on the outcome. The Latvian has established himself as a leader in St. Petersburg. As for his opponent, Milaknis improved over the course of the season and recently earned a spot in the starting five. In Kazan's most recent outing vs. Krasny Oktyabr, Milaknis had the second-most playing time on the team, shooting 5-8 from downtown. UNICS hopes that its Lithuanian X-factor will make a big difference on Sunday.

Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
- The most important thing is that our team is very motivated for this game. Our opponent's status speaks for itself: Kazan sits 2nd in the standings. The fact that there isn't much time to prepare or add new elements between games may be an issue, but, on the other hand, this will be an excellent chance for us to work on old plays and polish our game.

UNICS head coach Evgeny Pashutin:
- This will be a serious game against a strong opponent. In order to beat Zenit, we need to play well on defense, but it's also very important to move the ball on offense. Controlling the rhythm of the game is the key to success.

- This will be a very interesting and unpredictable game, - says former UNICS and Zenit player Artem Kuzyakin. - UNICS has already clinched 2nd place in the regular season, which may have an impact on the team's motivation. That will play into Zenit's hands as well as the fact that the game will be played in St. Petersburg.

The situation is such that Zenit has to beat UNICS and Lokomotiv-Kuban in order to finish 3rd. Yes, it's not an easy challenge, but Vasily Karasev's team is capable of getting it done.

It will also be interesting to watch the point guard duel between Ponkrashov and Vikhrov, two of the top Russian point guards in the league right now alongside Dmitry Khvostov. If Vikhrov plays the way he can, he'll create a lot of problems for Kazan.

As for the leaders, that would be Keith Langford and Anton Ponkrashov in Kazan. Two foreigners lead the way for Zenit: Toolson and Timma. Of course, they will need to shoot well from the field to beat UNICS.
Who will win on Sunday? I'd bet on Zenit because they are more motivated for this game.