We got past the first stage, which was the first part of our goal. Now we're on to the second stage. It's time to refocus and knock these games out and hopefully finish first or second in the group and advance.
We started the Top 16 with a big win in Russia! The game had a great finish, but the start of the game was sloppy. It was bad. I think we had 4 points to start the game in the first 6 or 7 minutes. After that, we picked it up a little bit. You get the feeling during the game how it's going. We felt confident during that game, that we had a chance to win just by the momentum and how things were playing out each quarter.
It came right down to the buzzer. I saw the loose ball on the last play and it went right into [Vitaly Fridzon's] hands and he got a clean shot off. I just watched it and hoped it didn't go in. That would have been heartbreaking for sure.
"I think that's why we've been so successful so far. Everyone comes to play and someone is gonna have a big night, I believe, out of the whole team."
Alpha Kaba came up big for us. Miro Bilan was in foul trouble and Alpha came in and just raised the level. The things he was doing on both ends of the court, just playing hard and getting a hand on pretty much every rebound made a huge difference for us. And then just playing tough defense; that's pretty much our M.O. That's what coach wants. Just to make things difficult for them and in the end, you have a chance.
You could see how important Alpha is to our team last year in some games, but he had some injuries as well last season, so for him to start the season with the injury that he had was kinda tough. He was looking to build on last year's season and get better and better. For him to come out with this game against Lokomotiv on the road is something big for his confidence and for the team as well. It gives us all a little motivation to see what we can do as a team when we play well together.
I think the key for our team is that you never know what guy is going to step up, what guy you can key in on. I think that each night it can be someone different and I think that's why we've been so successful so far. Everyone comes to play and someone is gonna have a big night, I believe, out of the whole team. There is no one person you can try to stop. All together we make it work.
Just getting to the game was an adventure in itself! I'm not sure exactly what happened because I was trying to sleep! We met at the gym at 5 a.m. Our flight was supposed to be at 6:30 a.m. It ended up leaving at 7:30 a.m., so that's one hour that we just waited at the airport. Then, when we landed to refuel, they said that something happened in Ukraine and we couldn't fly over their airspace, so we had to fly around Ukraine. So we sat there for another two hours waiting, trying to figure out which route we were going to take. And then it was another two hours more than the original route to go around Ukraine! It was hectic and crazy! I think we were supposed to land at noon, but instead, we landed at 5:00 – three hours before the game!
As soon as we got there, we went to the hotel, ate and then we raced to the gym. We arrived just in time. Normally, on a game day, you have a shootaround, you have lunch, you rest a little, watch some video and things like that. We didn't have any of that. We went right from the plane to eat to the game.
I haven't done anything like that – rush straight to a game – since middle school! And then we left right after the game and got home around 3 a.m. The whole trip was less than 24 hours. We were in Russia for a total of maybe seven hours. And just to get there, we were on the plane for eight hours. That shows you how crazy it was.
We chartered this flight because before, on a couple of our road trips, we missed connections on the way back and things like that. We'd be in the airport for six hour and missing days and things like that. So we wanted to make the trip easier.
This was our toughest trip for the Top 16 and we got it out of the way. There are direct flights from Lyon to Frankfurt and we played Ulm last year and we know that trip already.
"We were in Russia for a total of maybe seven hours. And just to get there, we were on the plane for eight hours. That shows you how crazy it was."
The win against Lokomotiv was big for us, but it's just one step. It's not the final. We didn't win it all. We have to take each game seriously and come out ready to play. If we don't, then the win was meaningless.
Our next game will be at home against Ulm, which is a scrappy, athletic team. They are looking to advance just like we are. We have prepared for them almost all week and set up a good game plan to hopefully come out with a victory.
We are hoping this can be a special season, but for now we are just trying to stay focused on one game at a time. I think this game gave us a radar of where we are and what we can do when we play well. I think that's a good confidence booster. But it will all go to waste if we don't take care of business and win games at home and tough games on the road, so it's just a push start for us to help us have a successful run.
We've had great fan support the last two years; I think we've had the most sell-outs in all the French League. I think this raises the awareness of basketball in the city. More people will come out and we're excited about it.