Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar struggled to make it to the EuroCup Top 16, but started this phase in style by downing Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas 71-86 on the road. The nine-hour trip to Gran Canaria was not an excuse for Lokomotiv, which won all four quarters and is now in a great situation with back-to-back home games against two other Spanish teams, UCAM Murcia and Montakit Fuenlabrada, on tap. Its top scorer in Gran Canaria was sharpshooter Matt Janning, who finished that game with 19 points on 4-of-5 three-point shooting as one of seven Lokomotiv players to finish the game with a double-digit performance index rating. Janning is averaging 10.3 points in eight games so far this season, but has boosted his average to 16.2 points over his team's last four games - two wins and two very narrow losses. Lokomotiv is Janning's fourth EuroCup team after Cibona Zagreb, Montepaschi Siena and Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. He was optimistic about his team's future, as he told Javier Gancedo of EuroCupbasketball.com in this interview. "Things did not go well at the start of the season, but now we have been able to turn the season around. Now, we need some consistency," Janning said. "We have done a great job, everybody is involved and that really helps."
Hello, Matt. Congratulations on your win in Gran Canaria. Lokomotiv won all four quarters against a team that had been unstoppable until now. What caused you to be so strong in that game?
"I think it starts from our defense, which has been really great lately. Holding a team like Gran Canaria to 71 points is obviously a big factor in winning the game. We played solid all game and got what we wanted offensively. We made the right plays and had the right effort to win."
You have many new players and a new coach this season; was it difficult to adjust?
"Yes, in the beginning almost everything was new. We struggled to find our chemistry and obviously made a lot of changes, but even since then, it was Coach Obradovic who changed our season. He has been great for us, kind of came in and gave us some discipline, really focusing on small details and trying to get everyone in their spots to be successful. We found great chemistry and everybody is willing to make plays for each other. It has really translated into a lot of wins."
You have won two of your last three EuroCup games, only losing in Valencia at the buzzer. Is this a new start for Lokomotiv?
"It is great for us, but honestly, it is kind of what we expected at the start of the season. Like I said before, things did not go well at the start of the season, but now we have been able to turn the season around. Now, we need some consistency. We lost two games at the buzzer - the one you mentioned in Valencia and another against ratiopharm Ulm, which went to overtime. We have done a great job, everybody is involved and that really helps."
You were in the longest trip possible in the EuroCup this season, Krasnodar to Gran Canaria. How was it?
"It was tough, I am not going to lie. We left early on Tuesday from Russia and made a stop in Sardinia, Italy, halfway to put some more fuel in the plane so that we could finish the trip. We arrived Tuesday afternoon in Gran Canaria, had a little practice and got some rest. On game day, we won the game and got out of there almost as quickly as we landed. It was a really quick trip for being that long and leaving with a win makes things better. It makes you forget how long the trip was."
You managed to do all this without star guard Taylor Rochestie. How dangerous can the team be when he gets back?
"I think we can be better, but it is going to take a little bit of time before he gets back on the floor in his normal rhythm. He is working hard in practice every day and we will get him on the court soon. Once he is back, we will get another piece of our puzzle and I think we can even take another step forwards to our goal, which is winning the EuroCup. That is our goal and he is going to help us be a part of that."
Lokomotiv is your fourth EuroCup team. What is the best thing about this competition and how strong is it this year?
"This year is a little bit different with all the changes in the format and everything. I think in this Top 16 format, there are a lot of strong teams out there. No game will be an easy one and I like the playoffs format better than the two-game series. A three-game series is better and it makes the EuroCup more competitive - and better for the fans, too."
You guys face UCAM Murcia, then Montakit Fuenlabrada twice. How much are you looking forward to the challenge?
"I think it is very important for us to win home games, and we have back-to-back games in Krasnodar right now. It is important to win at home in any competition, but especially in the EuroCup, with four-team groups. These next two games are going to be crucial for us. We are focused on Murcia. There are three Spanish teams in our group and they all play similar styles, but it is going to come down to us and how we play defense."
Since you mentioned it, is it an advantage to play against three Spanish teams who know each other so well, but maybe not too much about you?
"Yes, I was going to say that, it gives us some kind of an advantage. Obviously, they play each other at least twice throughout the year and you never know if they can meet each other in playoffs or in the King's Cup. Now, they will have to play each other again in this EuroCup group. It is probably tougher for them because they play against the same teams over and over, then we are a fresh team coming in; they haven't seen us, we haven't seen them. It makes the game more fun - seeing new faces, competing against new guys. I prefer having it this way; I would rather play against team teams outside of Russia!"
If you look around the competition, and not counting Loko, which teams do you consider the ones to beat in the competition, the favorites?
"Obviously, I think Valencia is very strong, we lost against them twice in the first round. They have a good chance to go deep in the competition. Khimki is also very strong, but there are many strong teams. We just beat Gran Canaria, but they have proved they are one of the best teams in the EuroCup this year. Jerusalem is strong... there are probably 10, 12 teams that could have a chance to win the whole thing if they advance."
Lokomotiv won the EuroCup in 2013 and went to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four last year. This is a new team, but has the success in recent years turned the club into a very ambitious one?
"Yes, I think, it has to be. It went to the EuroLeague and then back down to the EuroCup even after playing the Final Four. This year, obviously, the goal is winning the EuroCup or to be back in the EuroLeague this season through the VTB League. I think that, from the club's standpoint, they have a lot of confidence after winning one EuroCup and going to the EuroLeague Final Four. They have won a high percentage of games in every competition they have played, so I think their confidence is very high."