The do-or-die showdown between UNICS Kazan and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar to reach the 7DAYS EuroCup semifinals, had everything you expect from a high-level basketball game: Outstanding individual performances, two great teams battling to stay alive in the competition and a game played point to point, possession by possession that went down to the final seconds.
When the dust settled, UNICS defeated Lokomotiv 82-78, punching its ticket to the semifinals for the sixth time in club history. In a team usually led by its backcourt players, UNICS's big men made the difference down the stretch. A fastbreak layup by Nigel Williams-Goss brought Lokomotiv within 77-76 with 1:01 left. UNICS needed a go-to guy and found one in Jordan Morgan, who hit a jump hook in the paint. UNICS got a couple of critical defensive stops and Okaro White sealed the win from the foul line.
White earned his right to face his former team, Virtus Segafredo Bologna, in the semifinals; he played for the Italian powerhouse in the 2014-15 season. He finished the game with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, a personal-best 3 blocks and 7 fouls drawn for a career-high PIR of 26. White not only hit the game-clinching free throws, but had another critical basket. UNICS led 73-72 when John Brown missed, but White jumped high to grab the offensive board and put it in.
Small details and critical plays made the difference, but the numbers also showed that UNICS wanted it more. UNICS pulled down 16 offensive rebounds, collected 10 steals and had 6 blocks. Lokomotiv had good numbers, but all of them a bit lower: 14 offensive boards, 6 steals and 3 blocks.
"A very tight game, but at the end, I am thankful for the guys, to my players, because they really made a huge effort. We had a lot of injuries at this time and should control a lot of issues. Four guys were playing today with pills and injections," UNICS head coach Dimitris Priftis said after the game. "I want to underline the big bravo to the players."
Morgan played a big role with 17 points and 9 rebounds in less than 20 minutes on the floor. Brown scored all of his 10 points in the final 14 minutes, stepping up when it mattered most. Unsung heroes Georgy Zhbanov and Dmitrii Uzinskii provided the toughness required on defense and hit a three-pointer apiece. And of course, Smith delivered with 19 points off the bench. It was indeed a team-oriented effort that allowed UNICS to win the game.
UNICS advanced to the semifinals for the sixth time in club history. It has won twice, downing Cedevita Zagreb 87-66 in 2011 on its way to lifting the trophy and topping Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade in 2014, winning their two-game, total-points series 136-130. UNICS lost three times in the semifinals, always against Spanish teams - against Real Madrid in 2007, Herbalife Gran Canaria in 2015 and Valencia Basket in 2019
Virtus and UNICS are set to face each other for the first time in the EuroCup Semifinals. Game 1 of the best-of-three series is scheduled on Tuesday, April 6 at Virtus Segafredo Arena.