Inside the semifinals: Unics Kazan vs Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas

Mar 30, 2015 by Print
Inside the semifinals: Unics Kazan vs Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas

This semifinals series brings together two of the Eurocups most impressive squads. Gran Canaria is in the semis for the first time despite ranking fifth in all-time Eurocup wins; Unics dreams of a second Eurocup crown after winning it all in 2011.

Winners at the top

When it comes to preparing their teams for big games, both Unics Kazan and Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas are set at the top. Unics coach Evgeny Pashutin has won the Eurocup twice: once with his current team in 2011, and once with his former team, Lokomotiv Kuban, in 2013. Gran Canaria boss Aito Garcia Reneses won the 2008 ULEB Cup with Joventut Badalona. But Eurocup success is just part of their impressive coaching resumes, which are among the best in the game. Aito is a coaching legend, who coached in three Euroleague championship games with FC Barcelona, also won three other continental trophies with Barcelona and another two with Joventut. He also led the Spanish national team to the silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games. Pashutin, who is 23 years younger, guided CSKA Moscow to the 2010 Euroleague Final Four in his first season in the competition. He was named head coach of the Russian national team last year. Interestingly, the two have met four times previously – twice in the 2009-10 Euroleague, when Pashutin coached CSKA and Aito was with Unicaja Malaga, and twice in the 2012-13 Eurocup Last 16, when Pashutin coached Lokomotiv and Aito coached Cajasol Seville. Pashutin won all four of those meetings.

The longest journey

Both Unics and Gran Canaria are used to making long journeys. Gran Canaria is both the western-and southern-most team to compete in any European basketball competition, while Kazan is the eastern-most team in the Eurocup and one of the furthest north. The distance between the two teams' home courts is 5,900 kilometers. Rarely can either side travel for a Eurocup game without at least one stop over. But their respective travel itineraries for the semifinals bring difficult journeys to a whole different level. The quickest way to get between Gran Canaria and Kazan, flying commercially, requires at least three flights and a difference of more than 12 hours between take off from the first flight to landing for the second. Jet lag could indeed play a part in the Eurocup Semifinals.

Kyle Kuric - Herbalife Gran Canaria - EC14 (photo Vehbi Mogol - Pinar Karsiyaka)

Men of the Block

Penetrating guards have some big bodies to take into account in this series. Gran Canaria’s 2.20-meter center Walter Tavares leads the Eurocup this season in blocked shots with 35 total and 1.8 per game. His Unics counterpart D’Or Fischer is averaging even more – 2.1 per game, but has not played enough Eurocup games yet this season to qualify for the leaderboard. The Eurocup's career leader in blocks is Andre Riddick, who swatted 147 shots for Spirou Charleroi and a competition-best 1.77 per game. That record could be in reach early next season for either Tavares or Fischer.

Representing the world

When Gran Canaria takes the floor, it could field a team with players of eight different nationalities representing four continents. Naturally the team has more Spanish players than any other nationality. Starting small forward Brad Newley is Australian. The team has two Africans: center Alter Tavares comes from Cape Verde and teenage forward Mouhammed Barro hails from Senegal. In addition to its three Americans – Kyle Kuric, Ian O'Leary and DaJuan Summers – big man Levon Kendall was born in Canada and has an Irish passport, while forward Eulis Baez is a citizen of the Dominican Republic. Finally 17-year-old prospect Willy Isiani, who is registered on the Gran Canaria roster, but has not played in the Eurocup yet, comes from Georgia.

Winning at home… and away

Gran Canaria has won 14 straight Eurocup home games. That streak dates back to February 15, 2011, when Cedevita Zagreb edged Gran Canaria 86-89. Cedevita went on to reach the Eurocup Semifinals that season. Gran Canaria has only hosted Russian clubs twice before and it won both of those games. The first was an Evgeny Pashutin-coached Unics side in the 2011 Last 16. A year later Gran Canaria bested Lokomotiv Kuban in the season opener. Unics has won its last four Eurocup road games, including a 19-point decision over previously undefeated Lokomotiv Kuban in the second leg of their quarterfinals series. The team is 13-4 on the road over the past two Eurocup seasons. This series marks the second time Unics will play in Spain this season: it faced Turkish Airlines Euroleague runner-up Real Madrid in the Spanish capital during the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Regular Season. And Unics came out on top 75-85 as D'or Fischer and Curtis Jerrells combined for 48 points. Historically, however, Unics is only 3-7 in Eurocup games in Spain.