Road to the EuroCup Finals: UNICS Kazan

Apr 19, 2021 by Print
Road to the EuroCup Finals: UNICS Kazan

UNICS Kazan is well identified with the 7DAYS EuroCup as the competition's all-time leader in games played and victories. This season it has even furthered cemented its place in EuroCup history by rallying from a difficult start to capture memorable wins in the playoffs and now reach the EuroCup Finals, where it will look for its second crown – one decade after its first.

Coach Dimitris Priftis's squad started the season on the left foot with a loss at Umana Reyer Venice and was starting a second straight loss before Jamar Smith saved the day with a last-second game-winner in Round 2 against Bahcesehir Koleji Istanbul.

Smith was still making history in Round 6 when he became the EuroCup's all-time leader in three-pointers made. In that game, UNICS avenged its season-opening loss in Venice thanks to a dominating rebounding effort by its bigs.

After losing at Partizan to fall to 4-3 and injuries to Nate Wolters and John Holland depleting the backcourt, the team brought in Jordan Theodore, who would prove to be a key player as the season progressed. UNICS saw its passage into the Top 16 thanks to other results before its Round 9 game and then Isaiah Canaan erupted with 33 points, including 8 three-pointers, and MVP of the Week honors in a 76-71 home win over JL Bourg en Bresse.

UNICS came up short in its Round 10 visit to Joventut Badalona when a 3-point win would have placed it first in Group A. Instead, Coach Priftis's side placed second with a 6-5 record.

Any struggles UNICS saw in the regular season disappeared with the start of the Top 16. First came a 66-73 road win at MoraBanc Andorra and then a 73-62 victory over eventual semifinalist Herbalife Gran Canaria. Its next win made it the winningest team in competition history with 155 EuroCup victories.

UNICS became the first quarterfinalist when it beat Mornar Bar 86-61 to improve to 4-0 in the Top 16. A Round 5 win over Andorra clinched first place in Group H, however, a loss in the Top 16 finale in Gran Canaria denied it the overall top seed for the playoffs.

A quarterfinals-record 19 three-pointers paved the way for UNICS to win the opener of its series against Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar. However, Lokomotiv evened the series at home and forced a deciding Game 3. UNICS triumphed in a close game to reach the semifinals for the second time in three seasons.

UNICS lost Game 1 of the semis against undefeated Virtus Segafredo Bologna, but went home for Game 2 with confidence and got big games from Canaan and Theodore to even the series. Despite an injury to Jordan Morgan, UNICS found the winning recipe in Bologna to stun the hosts and win 100-107 in what was the highest-scoring non-overtime playoff game to date in either competition organized by Euroleague Basketball since 2000.

Having now secured its return to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for the 2021-22 campaign, all eyes in Kazan are on winning the EuroCup for the second time – and first since 2011 when it defeated Cajasol Seville in the championship game. UNICS hosts AS Monaco in Game 1 of the best-of-three finals on Tuesday, April 27.