Unics Kazan won the Eurocup in 2011. Lokomotiv Kuban won it two years later. Unics reached the finals last season. Lokomotiv is undefeated this season. Both are serious title contenders. But one will be going home soon.
How did we get here?
Unics Kazan started the season in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Rounds. After knocking off Stelmet Zielona Gora, Hapoel Jerusalem and ASVEL Lyon Villeurbanne, Unics advanced to Group A of the Euroleague regular season. Things did not go well at the start as Unics dropped four of its first five games. However, with its back to the wall – and after a coaching change – Unics won four straight games and had a shot to reach the Top 16 before falling at the hands of Nizhny Novgorod in the regular season finale. After joining the Eurocup, Unics continued to win, taking its Last 32 group and sweeping FoxTown Cantu in the eighthfinals. Lokomotiv’s road has been simple. It hasn’t lost all season in the Eurocup. It won its regular season group with a perfect record, same in the Last 32 and swept its eighthfinals series.
When they last met
Lokomotiv and Unics have already played twice this season in the VTB League. And Lokomotiv won both times. Even more impressive, both games were on Kazan’s home floor last month. On February 7, Lokomotiv claimed a 74-72 victory after trailing earlier in the quarter. Ina game that became a free-throw contest down the stretch, Anthony Randolph, Derrick Brown and Malcolm Delaney were a combined 5 of 6 in the final half-minute to save the win. Randolph led the way with 28 points and 9 rebounds, but he will likely miss this series due to an ankle injury. Eleven days later, Unics led 44-39 entering the fourth quarter, but Lokomotiv scored the first 11 points of the fourth to snatch the win. This time, Richie Hendrix was the star with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
His bio says it all. He is the head coach of the Russian national team. He won the Euroleague with CSKA as an assistant. He coached CSKA to the 2010 Final Four in his first season as a head coach there. And he has won the Eurocup twice. Once with his current team, Unics, in 2011. And once with his former team, Lokomotiv, in 2013. Yes, Pashutin has led both of these teams to their greatest international accomplishments. Pashutin spent two seasons in his first stint with Unics between 2010 and 2012. He spent the next two seasons with Lokomotiv. And took over at Unics again in November after Argyris Pedoulakis was dismissed. Not only did Pashutin coach Lokomotiv the past two seasons, but he coached eight of Lokomotiv’s current players. That could have a real impact on this series.
Do I know you?
Not only do practically all of the players on both teams know Coach Pashutin, three from Lokomotiv – Nikita Kurbanov, Eugeny Voronov and Andrey Zubkov – played for Pashutin on the Russian national team over the summer at the EuroBasket 2015 qualifying games. Unics’ Valeriy Likhodey, Anton Ponkrashov and Dmitry Sokolov were also on that team. Meanwhile, Lokomotiv big man Richard Hendrix and Unics scorer Keith Langford have been teammates at different stops in their careers: at Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv in 2011-12 and at EA7 Emporio Armani Milan the following season.
Key matchup at the 4
Lokomotiv power forward Derrick Brown may be the most dominant player in the Eurocup this season. After all, his average performance index rating of 19.8 per game is best among qualified players so far. Unics Kazan power forward Kostas Kaimakoglou may be the Eurocup’s most versatile player. He leads his team in assists (3.5 apg.) and steals (1.4 spg.) and is second in rebounding (4.8 rpg.). In fact, Kaimakoglou leads all big men in assists in the Eurocup this season. When they clash, it could be the matchup that has the greatest impact on the outcome. Though Brown may have the advantage in physical assets, Kaimakoglou’s toughness and basketball IQ, which helped him become a Euroleague champion with Panathinaikos, enable him to find ways to compete against all players. However if Brown proves to be too good, that could be a difference maker in the series.