Two of the Eurocup’s great dynasties clash for a ticket to the semifinals. Defending champion Valencia Basket has won the competition a record three times; Khimki Moscow Region beat Valencia in the 2012 championship game for its first crown.
How did they get here?
After winning the Eurocup last season, Valencia started the current campaign in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague. Though Valencia played well against some strong teams – it lost twice to Olympiacos Piraeus by a combined 4 points, defeated two current Top 16 teams and had a winning record at home (3-2) – its inability to win on the road cost the team a chance at advancing. Instead, Valencia came to the Eurocup to defend its title starting from the Last 32. Things did not go well at first; Valencia was 1-2 at the midway point in Group N, but won its next two games to clinch second place and then routed FC Bayern Munich in the eighthfinals. Some may have worried about Khimki when it started the Eurocup season with a 3-2 record, but then came five straight wins to win Group D. After a loss at FoxTown Cantu in the Last 32 opener, Khimki won its remaining five games in Group J, too, and has not lost since. Khimki swept Zenit St Petersburg in the eighthfinals and carries a seven-game winning streak into this series. Khimki has also won 17 straight Eurocup home games.
Lots of champions
When it comes to winning big games, both Valencia and Khimki have it covered. Valencia is not only the reigning Eurocup champ, but eight of its players – Pablo Aguilar, Bojan Dubljevic, Serhiy Lishchuk, Vladimir Lucic, Rafa Martinez, Pau Ribas, Romain Sato and Sam Van Rossom – from last year's squad are back and leading the way this season. Moreover, among the newcomers are Kresimir Loncar, who won the Eurocup with Khimki in 2012, and Luke Harangody, who reached the finals last season with Unics Kazan. Khimki coach Rimas Kurtinaitis took the Eurocup in 2009, with Lietuvos Rytas, before winning again with Khimki in 2012. Two players from that 2012 championship squad remain, Sergey Monia and Egor Vyaltsev. Marko Popovic, meanwhile, was the 2011 Eurocup Final MVP when he lead Unics to the crown. And Tyrese Rice was the Euroleague Final Four MVP last season after helping Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv become Turkish Airlines Euroleague champion. So both of these teams clearly have rosters that know what it takes to win titles.
Khimki and Valencia have met six times prior to this season. And there were all pretty big games. The biggest of course was the 2012 final, in which Khimki prevailed 77-68 to lift its first European title. Zoran Planinic led the way with 19 points and Kresimir Loncar added 14. Loncar is now with Valencia. Nik Caner-Medley was outstanding with 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and a performance index rating of 23 in defeat. Only Rafa Martinez (9 points) and Serhiy Lishchuk (16 points) remain with Valencia from that period. In 2009, Khimki KO’d Valencia in the quarterfinals at the Eurocup Final Eight in Turin, Italy, 73-76. Mike Wilkinson led a balanced Khimki attack under head coach Sergio Scariolo. Valencia was coached by Never Spahija. Khimki went on to the final, where it lost to Coach Kurtinaitis’s Lietuvos Rytas. Last season, the two teams split games in the Eurocup Eighthfinals, but Valencia advanced on point difference and went on to the title. Valencia won the first leg at home 75-59 behind the trio of Oliver Lafayette (16 points), Romain Sato (15 points, 7 rebounds) and Martinez (14 points, 7 rebounds). Khimki needed to win by at least 17 in the second leg and indeed was up 97-80 in the final minute, but Ribas’s jumper with 9.2 seconds remaining gave the series to Valencia. In addition to those games, each team won by 3 at home in the 2007-08 ULEB Cup regular season. Khimki leads the all-time series 4-2.
Valencia’s coaching change
Carles Duran started the season as an assistant coach who had never stood on the sidelines of a game at the top level in Spain before. But since he was handed the reigns at Valencia, first on an interim basis when Coach Velimir Perasovic left, and then on a deal for the remainder of the season, the team has only found success. Valencia is 4-1 in the Eurocup under Duran and 3-0 on the road. It was 1-2 in the Last 32 before Duran righted the ship and steered Valencia to the eighthfinals. And its dismantling of FC Bayern Munich in the eighthfinals was nothing short of impressive; Valencia swept the series with the biggest road win (34 points) and biggest series difference (56 points) in competition history! There's no doubt that Coach Duran breathed new life into the team.
Khimki gets it done at both ends
No team has scored more points in the Eurocup this season than Khimki's 1,559. And its average of 86.6 per game is second in the Eurocup. What makes that stand out even more is that Khimki also gets it done on defense. It has held teams to offensive totals in the 60s six times this season. And its averaged points allowed per game of 75.5 is among the best third in the competition. Khimki has the best average performance index rating (102.9) in the Eurocup, is among the best three-point shooting teams (39.3%), but also leads the Eurocup in blocks (4.17 bpg.) and is among the top 10 rebounding clubs (36.5 rpg.) too. In the paint and on the perimeter, on offense and defense, Khimki has shown it has the tools to win.