Road to the Finals, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar

Mar 27, 2018 by Print
Road to the Finals, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar

Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar will play in the 7DAYS EuroCup Finals for the first time since winning the competition in 2013. None of the players who lifted that trophy five years ago remain with the team, but Lokomotiv has some players who have tasted EuroCup glory - or were close to doing so. Dmitry Khvostov and Stanislav Ilnitskiy won the EuroCup with Khimki Moscow Region in 2012 and 2015, respectively. Pavel Antipov helped UNICS Kazan reach the finals in 2014 and Mardy Collins was chosen to the 2015-16 All-EuroCup First Team after a season in which he helped SIG Strasbourg go all the title to the championship series. Lokomotiv is the first team to reach the EuroCup Finals undefeated - and a triumph in Game 1 would give it the longest winning streak in competition history.

Lokomotiv almost started the season with a loss; it trailed 56-53 against Limoges with six minutes left, but ended up winning 61-63 win on a key blocked shot by Vladimir Ivlev. It needed overtime to beat Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in Round 3 of the regular season, but walked out of the Lithuanian capital with an 85-93 triumph behind 21 points and 9 assists from Joe Ragland. Things were better back in Krasnodar, where Lokomotiv won all five regular season games by an average margin of 20.4 points. Ragland (13.0 ppg.) and Ryan Broekhoff (12.1 ppg.) were its top scorers in the regular season, but seven other players averaged eight points or better. It also had the best defensive numbers in the regular season, allowing just 71.4 points per game.

The Top 16 proved to be a bigger challenge for Lokomotiv, as despite staying undefeated, the team had to compete hard to win some games by narrow margins. Lokomotiv rallied from a double-digit halftime deficit to down Buducnost VOLI Podgorica in the Montenegrin capital, 62-68, behind 15 points and 10 rebounds from Broekhoff. It also stopped a fourth-quarter comeback by Cedevita Zagreb at home to beat the Croatian powerhouse 69-64 despite leading by 18 after 30 minutes. Lokomotiv improved its defensive numbers (65.3 ppg. allowed) and held opponents to just 23.5% shooting from the three-point line. Broekhoff (12.7 ppg.), Frank Elegar (12.2 ppg.) and Trevor Lacey (10.5 ppg.) were its best scorers in the Top 16 phase.

Broekhoff was injured right before the playoffs and Lokomotiv quickly found itself in danger, trailing 63-70 in Game 1 of the quarterfinals against Herbalife Gran Canaria with over four minutes left. Ragland, Dmitry Kulagin and Collins fueled a 16-4 final run that saw Lokomotiv protect its home court advantage in the best-of-three series. Once in Game 2 in Gran Canaria, Lokomotiv registered a 59-80 win. Kulagin had 32 points and a performance index rating of 34, which helped his case to be chosen as the 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals MVP. Lokomotiv then dominated its semifinal series against Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia; Lokomotiv won Game 1 by 17 points and took Game 2 on the road, 69-79. Reggio Emilia did not hold a lead after the first quarter of either game. Collins (16.0 ppg.) and Elegar (15.0 ppg.) were the team's top scorer in the semifinals.

Lokomotiv can become the fourth team to win multiple EuroCup titles, after Valencia Basket, Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Khimki Moscow Region. It also has the chance to finish a EuroCup season undefeated, which is unprecedented. DKV Joventut Badalona won the then-called ULEB Cup title with a 16-1 record. Lokomotiv has the best all-time record in the competition, 19-1 in the 2014-15 season, but failed to lift the trophy.