CSKA Moscow has earned a privileged position in the standings as it hosts Olympiacos Piraeus on Wednesday with a chance to clinch first place in the fourth-to-last round of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season. One of CSKA's main pillars over the last three years has been shooting guard Cory Higgins, who is playing an even bigger role this season. Higgins is averaging 13.8 points in 26 games as the only EuroLeague player shooting better than 60% from two-point range (60.5%), 45% from downtown (45.8%) and 80% from the foul line (84.3%). Higgins is the 10th-best per-minute scorer in the competition, averaging 23.3 points per 40 minutes. He helped CSKA win the EuroLeague title in 2016, his first season in the competition, and since that moment, Higgins has been working to take CSKA back to the podium at the end of the Final Four. Higgins believes that having a core of players for several years will help CSKA in the toughest moments of the season. "We want to keep getting better this season and go in the right direction, not backwards, heading into the most important part of the season," Higgins told EuroLeague.net. "We have to prove ourselves. It doesn't matter where we play or who we play. We have to be ready to get the win."
Hello, Cory. Congratulations for the big win against Fenerbahce on Nando De Colo's game-winning shot. What did you guys talk about in the timeout before that shot?
"Thank you. Well, we knew that Nando was going to take the shot. I wasn't really involved in that play, because I had fouled out, but yes, it was up to Nando to make the correct read."
In the last five CSKA-Fenerbahce games, three went to OT and one was won at the buzzer. How is it to be part of this rivalry between two great teams?
"It is very nice because it brings out the competitiveness in us both, and I think very player in both sides enjoys being able to match up against each other, because we know we are going to get the best from each other. We always know that when we are going to play Fener. It is something that it's in the back of our minds when the date comes closer, especially this year, after we had lost at home to them, so we were looking forward to this one again."
CSKA already has 21 wins, one less than last season with four games left. You have the chance to clinch first place this week. In which ways did the team improve this season?
"I think our season has gone well. We improved a lot, especially with our character. We had a lot of new pieces this year, so we knew it was going to take some time, but as the year went on, I think we got tougher, especially mentally. I think we have shown we can win in any type of environment. I think that this year we have so many different options and we can win in different ways. Different guys are able to step up in any different time, so that makes us much harder to beat."
You play next against Olympiacos, the only team CSKA has not beaten yet this season. How important is it to avenge that earlier loss to Olympiacos and have at least one win against every single EuroLeague team?
"It is very important, but it is more important for ourselves and our journey this season. We want to keep getting better this season and go in the right direction, not backwards, heading into the most important part of the season. We have to prove ourselves. It doesn't matter where we play or who we play. We have to be ready to get the win."
CSKA is shooting 43.1% from downtown as a team. How important are extra passes and spacing in your offense?
"I think that the biggest part of our offense is being able to get the best shot possible each possession. Everybody has to be able to make the right reads and re-rotations, find the open man, and we have to try that in practice."
You are the only EuroLeague shooting more than 60% on two-pointers, 45% on threes and 80% at the foul line. Why are you so effective?
"Like I said before, we just try to get the best possible shot, so when we are doing that, I think that everybody is going to shoot with high percentages. I have just been blessed enough to make most of my shots."
CSKA's winning mentality is second to none, looking to win every game. For a competitor like you are, how do you like this sort of mentality and how demanding is it?
"It is extremely demanding, but I think this is why CSKA is very selective on which players they choose to bring over here. The organization is always going for people who want to win, no matter what kind of competition it is. Every time you step on the court, you have to give your best."
In your third season with the club, and with many of the same teammates and coaches, how much has your comfort level at CSKA and in the city of Moscow gone up?
"On the court, I think the chemistry, especially with the players that I have been with here for three years, has gone up a lot because we know exactly where each other is going to be on the court. And the coaches and myself, I think we all feel very comfortable with one another. Off the court, Moscow feels like a second home now. Personally, I am a big food guy, so I love the endless restaurants that you have here in Moscow."
You won the title in your very first EuroLeague season, without having to wait like a lot of players. Do you have the same hunger --or more, perhaps -- having known that feeling of winning it all?
"I would say I have more hunger because like you said, I have been fortunate enough to win a EuroLeague championship, so I had a little taste of that success. That feeling is something that you always want to recreate."
What will it be the biggest key for CSKA to go all the way again?
"I think that the biggest thing for us is just to stay together and to fight together. I think that this year, like I said, we got mentally tougher as a team and that is going to be the biggest key going forward."