Strasbourg faces its most important game ever in European competition since its first appearance in 1994. The club has the chance to advance to its first continental final, which would make Strasbourg the first French team to reach that stage in the Eurocup. It will not be an easy task, however, as Strasbourg faces a 6-point deficit against Dolomiti Energia Trento, which hosts Game 2 on Wednesday at 19:30 CET. The good news for Strasbourg is that it has been unstoppable on the road since the start of the elimination series. Strasbourg thrashed EWE Baskets Oldenburg 64-93 in the eighthfinals and defeated Nizhny Novgorod 85-94 in the quarterfinals. Do-it-swingman Mardy Collins has been instrumental to his team's success on the road, averaging 8.3 points in three home games since the end of the Last 32, but his numbers soar to 20 points away from Rhenus Sport. Collins, who has averaged 12.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 11 Eurocup games this season, believes that his team is prepared for the challenge, as he told Javier Gancedo of Eurocupbasketball.com in this interview. "We have kind of been through every scenario. We know what to expect. It’s just about going out there Wednesday, executing and playing hard," Collins said. "We just gotta give our all; that’s all we can do. But I know these guys are gonna be ready to play, so we just gotta come out and be ready too.”
Hello, Mardy. Were you surprised by how Trento played in the first quarter when they hit so many three-point shots and took a big lead?
“Yeah, I think it caught us off guard because the game plan was to take away their driving ability because they have some good guys that can drive to the basket. So that was our goal, to try to limit guys from getting to the basket, so they got a lot of shots that we didn’t expect. But also on the other hand, even though we want to take away the drive, we need to have to be able to close out and play defense on guys that shoot it and I don’t think we did that in the first quarter.”
So what happened after that; what did you change between the first quarter and the second to get back into the game?
“Our aggressiveness, I think. Instead of just letting guys shoot and letting them do what they wanted, to do. The goal was, like I said, to take away the drive, but that doesn’t mean you play so far off of them that you just give them shots. That’s what changed. In the second quarter we started to play our regular defense and be smarter at who we let shoot and who let drive. We just picked up our intensity. That was basically it.”
You have a 4-1 road record in the Eurocup this season. Does that give you hope going into the game at Trento?
“It gives us a little confidence knowing we can go on the road and get a win. But we know it’s not going to be easy. We have a 6-point difference. We know those guys are gonna be ready to play and we have to focused and ready to play and we’ll see what we can do.”
You were in a similar situation against Oldenburg in that series. You lost at home by a small amount and went to Oldenburg and won big. Is that a reference for what you have to do in this situation?
“It definitely is. I think so far in the Eurocup we’ve kind of been through every scenario. Being down and having to go to the other team’s place and win a game, whether it was Oldenburg or in the last series having a lead and beating them at home first and having to go and fight back when they have a lead. So we have kind of been through every scenario. We know what to expect. It’s just about going out there Wednesday, executing and playing hard. We just gotta give our all; that’s all we can do. But I know these guys are gonna be ready to play, so we just gotta come out and be ready too.”
You were really close to becoming the first French team to go to the Euroleague Top 16 in 10 years. Was it difficult after that to play in the Eurocup?
“It’s not difficult. I think we were in an amazing pool in the Euroleague and I think most of the teams that were in our pool are gonna probably be in the playoffs in the Euroleague. It was upsetting because we think if we played a little better, we could have had a possibility of making the Top 16, but the Eurocup is a good competitive situation too, so we weren’t disappointed. We just gotta to use the lessons we learned in the Euroleague in the Eurocup now and I think those experience in the Euroleague really helped us."
Strasbourg and Trento have very different playing styles. Do you think who imposes its playing style will probably advance to the next round?
“It has a lot to do with it. I think our styles are definitely [different]. They like to get up and down and we like to control the pace at a slower pace, but I think [Julian] Wright’s ability, both their bigs’ ability to come out on the wing really gave us some problems, because Bangaly [Fofana], he’s our shot blocker, our defensive guy on the inside and when Wright is bringing him outside, it kind of leaves the paint open. We just have to make adjustments how we are going to guard these guys and make more of a team effort on defense.”
We need to discuss the double-overtime game against Nizhny Novgorod, which was surely one of the most-exciting games of the season. What was it like to be a part of that?
“It was amazing. I think we went there and we played an amazing game, couldn’t play any better, probably one of our best games of the season. And we left with a 9-point lead. And I think we came home a little too comfortable. And they kind of put us on our buts and got an 18-point lead. It was amazing how none of the guys, we didn’t give up. We were basically down 9 and we kept fighting and kept fighting and it just showed how much better we got as a team over the course of this year and how much all the experiences early on in the year, like when we played Red Star being down 20 and coming back to win, all those experiences were key to coming back and to win that game.”
How did you explain to your friends in America that the game went into double overtime and ended in a tie?
“Yeah, they didn’t understand it. Because I was talking with some of my friends back home and I kept saying all we had to do was not lose by more than 9 and all my friends kept saying, ‘win the game, don’t say that.’ I said, ‘I’m just explaining it to y’all, because if you are watching the game at home and y’all see it go to double overtime, even though they’re winning the game, y’all know why. So some of my friends didn’t understand the rules and the concept, but once I explained it to them they understood it. It was an amazing game.”
From a tactical point of view, how important is the week in between the two games in a series?
“It’s very important. For me right now, I wasn’t 100% in this past game; my Achilles and my heel was bothering me. For me right now, it’s just important to get myself 100% healthy, so that’s the main thing and all the guys probably have knickknack injuries so that’s one thing. And coach does an amazing job making adjustments. When we played against Oldenburg, we played at home first and didn't have a great game, but only lost by 2 points. I think Coach made excellent adjustments and the guys focused in the whole week. We went there very focused and I think that week in between helped us."
How important would it be for French basketball and for you, personally, to go all the way in the Eurocup?
"I am pretty sure that the whole of French basketball is behind us and that is important. We have a great fan base that sold out this game in 30 minutes, which was unbelievable. I know they are following us. For me, I want it. I have been in the Euroleague playoffs with Olympiacos and we lost in Game 5, I have been to the championship series in Greece and lost to Panathinaikos, last year I lost in the Polish finals and in the Eurocup quarterfinals, against Paris... My whole career, I have been getting to the big games, the finals, but I never get over the hump, so for me, it is something that I really want bad. I just want to come out on Wednesday and do my best to try to get the win."