Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar and Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia face each other for the first time ever in the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals. Lokomotiv has reached this stage with a perfect record this season, while Reggio Emilia has won its last six home games and grown as a team as the competition has progressed.
Defense, defense, defense!
It is no surprise that defense will be the biggest key to this series; Lokomotiv leads the competition having allowed the fewest points per game (68.8 ppg.) and Reggio Emilia ranks third (75.0 ppg.), right behind another semifinalist, Darussafaka (70.3 ppg.). The fact that defense is the key for Reggio Emilia is clear when noting that the Italian powerhouse has allowed 71.9 points in wins and 79.2 in losses. Lokomotiv has held opponents to just 46.7% shooting from two-point range (Reggio Emilia 51.7%) and 29.1% from downtown (Reggio Emilia 33.5%). Lokomotiv relies on its physicality and commits a lot of fouls (27.5 per game in the quarterfinals, 24.5 in the Top 16) to prevent its opponents from playing at their comfortable rhythm. Both teams have forced their opponents into a lot of turnovers: Lokomotiv 14.7 per game, Reggio Emilia 13.8. All signs point to a tough battle in which neither team can take anything for granted.
What can James White do?
The last time James White played against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar in the EuroCup, he had a career-game. Wearing a UNICS Kazan uniform, White was the facilitator of one of the most memorable outcomes in competition history. It was the second leg of the two-leg quarterfinal series in the 2014-15 season. Lokomotiv was undefeated in the first 19 games of the season (sounds familiar!?) and on a EuroCup record 20-game winning streak, and it won Game 1 in Kazan by 9 points. Underdog UNICS stormed through Krasnodar and won 58-79 to move into the semifinals. White led UNICS with a EuroCup career-high 29 points, making 7 of 11 two-point shots and 2 of 3 three-pointers. He also shot 9 of 9 from the free throw line and collected 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block in accumulating a career-high performance index rating of 38. White earned MVP honors for quarterfinals Game 2.
No Spanish? Well, there is one left
It is a rarity to not see any Spanish teams in the EuroCup Semifinals. Spain has been one of the dominant teams in the competition - Valencia Basket is the winningest team in the competition with three titles and Real Madrid, Joventut Badalona and Unicaja Malaga have also lifted the trophy. Four other teams - Herbalife Gran Canaria, Cajasol Seville, Akasvayu Girona and Bilbao Basket – have been to the championship game. You have to go back in 2006 to find a EuroCup Semifinals without any Spanish teams. That was the only year in which no Spanish teams advanced to this stage - until now. In that season, Dynamo Moscow of Russia was the champion, Aris Thessaloniki of Greece the runner-up and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem of Israel and Hemofarm Stada of Serbia lost in the semifinals. Still, there is one Spanish player left in the competition - Pedro Llompart of Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, who has the honor to represent his country, all by himself, from now on.
Lokomotiv: experience in the EuroCup semifinals
Not only is Lokomotiv in the EuroCup Semifinals for the third time, but most of its players have been to this stage in the past. Obviously, those who remain on the team from last season – Mardy Collins, Evgeny Baburin, Vladimir Ivlev, Dmitry Khvostov and Ryan Broekhoff, who is currently injured, already played the EuroCup Semifinals with Loko. Collins also reached the semifinal with SIG Strasbourg in 2016, Pavel Antipov with UNICS Kazan in 2015, Baburin, Ivlev and Khvostov were teammates when Nizhny Novgorod advanced that far in 2014 and Stanislav Ilnitskiy made it with Khimki Moscow Region in 2015. Dmitry Kulagin has been to two Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Fours with CSKA Moscow and lifed the trophy in 2016. As for Reggio Emilia, only White (UNICS, 2015) Llompart (Valencia, 2005) and Julian Wright (Trento, 2016) have been to the EuroCup Semifinals before.