When facing a do-or-die situation, clubs always prefer to have some experienced veterans to lean on. On Wednesday, Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar was able to rely heavily on its only two players on the roster born in the 1980s; Lithuanians Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Mantas Kalnietis, shouldered much of the burden in a 100-86 victory over Dolomiti Energia Trento that clinched a ticket to the quarterfinals.
The two players combined to play 35.5 percent of the team's minutes, scored 47% of its points (47 of 100), made 60% of its three points (6 of 10), grabbed 37.1% of its rebounds (13 of 35), dished 44% of its assists (11 of 25), collected 75% of its steals (3 of 4), and had 49.2% of its cumulative PIR (63 of 128).
Kuzminskas scored 6 points in an 8-0 first-quarter run and had 11 more in the second quarter as Lokomotiv pulled away. He added 5 points in a 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter for a critical 88-69 lead. Kuzminskas finished with career-highs of 26 points and 9 rebounds.
Kalnietis notched his second double-double of the season with 21 points, 10 assists and 3 steals. The point total was 1 behind his career-best and he tied his career-best in steals. Kalnietis's 33:51 minutes played were also a season-high. He improved his EuroCup-leading assists average to 7.0 per game and stormed into the competition's all-time top 10 in assists, leapfrogging two players to climb to ninth with 323.
Teammates and two-time EuroBasket silver medalists with the Lithuanian national team, the duo has played in countless big games before and were clearly ready for this one. Moreover, they made each other better; 4 of Kalnietis's assists went to Kuzminskas.
Lokomotiv has been a team in flux. Star big man Alan Williams was lost for the season due to a knee injury and top-scorer Jordan Crawford was released. Their replacements, Drew Gordon (12 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) and Nigel Williams-Goss (13 points, 5 assists), have not been with the team long enough yet to fully develop the needed chemistry. But it is building and when those two, former EuroCup champ Will Cummings and first-year forward Kevin Hervey put it all together, Lokomotiv may just have the talent, versatility and – of course – the experience needed to go all the way in the EuroCup.