UNICS Kazan continued a couple of its EuroCup traditions on Wednesday night. UNICS beat Rytas Vilnius for the fourth time in as many head-to-head games in the competition, but more importantly, a few minutes after its 82-69 victory, UNICS learned it was enough to clinch a place in the quarterfinals.
That made it the eighth consecutive time that UNICS has reached the elimination rounds when playing in the EuroCup, an impressive streak that started back in 2011 when UNICS went all the way and won the trophy. The club also made the finals in 2014, while reaching in the semifinals in 2015 and again last season. The last time UNICS got ousted in a group phase was in the Last 16 of the 2009-10 season.
The club, which is tied with Valencia Basket on the all-time list for most games played in the competition, 206, has arguably the most-experienced roster in all of the EuroCup this season, headed by former MVP and champion Errick McCollum, and another former champ in Jamar Smith. The sharpshooter nailed 6 of 7 three-pointers to bag 24 points against Rytas.
So, UNICS knows better than anyone that the job is far from done, especially still ahead is a mightily important Round 6 tilt against AS Monaco, which will determine who wins Group G and gets the home-court advantage in the playoffs. While Monaco is not qualified, and could even get eliminated if it losses and Galatasaray routs Rytas on the road, UNICS has a fairly clear(er) picture:
Beat Monaco and earn home-court advantage in the quarterfinals to face either Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul or Segafredo Virtus Bologna. Lose, and face Group E winner Partizan NIS Belgrade, with Game 1 - and a potential Game 3 - played in an 18,000-plus packed Stark Arena in the Serbian capital.
UNICS and Partizan are two of the four quarterfinalists we know, with the other two coming from Group H where Unicaja Malaga won the group and Tofas Bursa will finish second. They will face qualifiers from Group F in which not one thing is decided and all outcomes are possible In Round 6.
While waiting to find out their respective opponents, Unicaja and Partizan will have plenty to play for in the Top 16 finale, looking for wins and point-differences that could secure them potential home-court advantages all the way to the EuroCup Finals. That might be a pretty far look ahead, but things are only going to get more heated from now on.