UNICS Kazan is undefeated at home this season. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar is 7-1 on the road. The clubs from Russia know each other well, making this an intriguing 7DAYS EuroCup Quarterfinals series.
What's between them
No playoff teams know each other quite like UNICS and Lokomotiv. Even though there are 1,800 kilometers between them, these teams play each other every season in the VTB United League and have seen a handful of players suit up for both teams over the years, including two current UNICS players. UNICS edged Lokomotiv 79-75 when they played in mid-October and their next VTB game against one another is set for March 16 – three days after Game 3 of this series would take place. Their only previous EuroCup games against each other came in the 2015 quarterfinals. Both teams won on the road with UNICS winning the two-game total-points series by 12. UNICS big man Maksim Sheletko played five seasons with Lokomotiv and was on the EuroCup-winning squad in 2013. Teammate Anton Ponkrashov played for Lokomotiv in 2014. Ponkrashov was also a teammate of Lokomotiv players Vitaly Fridzon and Dmitry Khvostov on the Russian national team the last time Russia won a medal at a major competition – bronze at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
A defensive showdown
Defense has been a major factor in these teams reaching the quarterfinals. UNICS has allowed the second-fewest points in the competition this season (74.3 ppg. allowed), was even tougher in the Top 16 (71.0 ppg. allowed) and held one of the EuroCup's top attacks, that of MoraBanc Andorra, to just 53 points in their Top 16 finale. Lokomotiv has allowed the third-fewest points (74.3 ppg. allowed) – with just a single point more scored against it that UNICS over 16 games, and gave up the second-fewest points in the Top 16 (70.5 ppg. allowed). Like its opponent, Lokomotiv finished the Top 16 with one of its strongest defensive efforts; it held Fraport Skyliners Frankfurt to 58 points in Round 6. UNICS has collected the third-most steals (8.1 spg.) this season and Lokomotiv the second-most rebounds (36.3 rpg.). Points will be at a premium in this series!
Milestones in the works
Former champ Jamar Smith of UNICS has 152 career three-pointers and needs 4 more to catch Sergey Monia for 10th place in EuroCup history. Lokomotiv shooter Dmitry Khvostov enters the series with 117 career triples and can reach 20th with 9 more threes in this series. With his next assist, Khvostov will tie Albert Oliver for third place in EuroCup history with 393. Second place is not too far ahead; Marko Marinovic is second with 400. The all-time leader is Stefan Markovic with 491. UNICS's Anton Ponkrashov is 12th with 290 assists, however, Sam Van Rossom of Valencia Basket is 10th with 298 and counting. UNICS forward Kostas Kaimakoglou will be making his 100th EuroCup appearance the first time he takes the floor in this series. Kaimakoglou is ranked 16th in EuroCup history with 382 rebounds, which places him just 22 boards away from 10th place all-time. UNICS guard Erick McCollum has a chance to reach the top 20 on the EuroCup career scoring list if he gets hot and this series goes the distance. McCollum has 857 points; former champ Kelly McCarty is 20th with 922.
Winners in our midst
This series has many players with experience playing for major goals on a big stage, including a combined three EuroLeague champions and seven EuroCup champs between them. UNICS features a former EuroLeague champion in Kostas Kaimakoglou and three past EuroCup winners in Erick McCollum, Maksim Sheletko (who won it twice!) and Jamar Smith. Moreover, McCollum is a former EuroCup scoring champ (2014) and EuroCup MVP (2016). Anton Ponkrashov has won a EuroBasket gold medal with Russia and played in multiple EuroLeague Final Fours. Four current UNICS players – Evgeny Kolesnikov, Pavel Sergeev, Kaimakoglou and Sheletko – were on the squad five years ago when the club reached the 2014 EuroCup Finals before losing to Valencia. Lokomotiv sharpshooter Vitaly Fridzon has won both the EuroLeague and EuroCup. He won the EuroLeague in 2016 alongside current teammate Dmitry Kulagin. JaJuan Johnson is a reining EuroCup champ and Stanislav Ilnitskiy and Dmitry Khvostov have both celebrated the title before. Five current Lokomotiv players – Vladimir Ivlev, Trevor Lacey, Ilnitskiy, Khvostov and Kulagin – played in the EuroCup Finals last season with Lokomotiv.