Inside the eighthfinals: Unics Kazan - Stelmet Zielona Gora

Feb 19, 2016 by Print
Inside the eighthfinals: Unics Kazan - Stelmet Zielona Gora

The usual suspects

These teams face each other for the fourth consecutive season. Their first-ever matchup came in the 2012-13 Eurocup, in which they traded road wins - Zielona Gora won 67-74 in Kazan and Unics returned the favor with a 76-91 road win. The following season, Zielona Gora and Unics did not meet until the Eurocup Last 32. Unics won in Poland 72-77 behind 17 points from Andrew Goudelock and downed Zielona Gora 82-64 at home led by 19 points from Ian Vougioukas. Last season, Unics and Zielona Gora played in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Qualifying Round. Unics prevailed 90-86 and went on to qualify for the Euroleague. Once again, Zielona Gora and Unics meet in a make-or-break situation.

Rebounds will be critical

It is cliché that the battle under the boards will be critical in every home-and-away series, but Zielona Gora and Unics can back it up with numbers. Zielona Gora has been all over the offensive glass since it landed in the Eurocup, ranking second in the Last 32 at 14 per game - including a season-high 22 offensive boards in its clinching road win against Umana Reyer Venice in Round 6. Meanwhile, Unics led the Last 32 in defensive rebounds (27.3 drpg.), so the battle will be hard under its basket. With Zielona Gora ranking 26th in the Last 32 in defensive boards (22 drpg.) and Unics 15th in offensive rebounds (10.2 orpg.), it is intriguing to see what happens at the other side of the court, too.

Experience as opposed to a new situation

Even though the team has played in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague in the last couple of seasons, Zielona Gora is playing in a home-and-away format for the first time in its short Eurocup run, while Unics is set to play its 150th game in the competition. Unics has won 108 Eurocup games to date and is 10-5 in two-game series, Zielona Gora has only played in just 34 games and won only 13. Zielona Gora aspires to become the second Polish team to reach the Eurocup quarterfinals; PGE Turow Zgorzelec did that in 2008. Unics lifted the Eurocup trophy in 2011, played the Finals in 2013 and reached two the semifinals in 2007 and 2015. In other words, Unics has the experience required and Zielona Gora, the enthusiasm to make history.

Dee Bost - Stelmet Zielona Gora - EC15 (photo Piotr Jedzura - Zielona Gora)_6nqa4a7k7ttuda3y

Stretching the floor

Even though neither team is overly reliant on three-point shooting (Unics has taken 20.6 shots per game, Zielona Gora 21.6), they both try to stretch the floor. Zielona Gora features two big men - center Szymon Szewczyk and power forward Vlad Moldoveanu - taking the same number of two and three-point shots, as well as two other perimeter players, Karol Gruszecki (16 3FGA, 8 2FGA) and Przemyslaw Zamojski (20 3FGA, 12 3FGA) who are eager to pull the trigger from downtown. Unics has its own stretch power forwards in Kostas Kaimakoglou, who has attempted 47 two-point and 46 three-point shots this season, and Valery Likhodey (39-36). No-one beats Arturas Milaknis as a true three-point specialist. Milaknis has attempted just 12 two-point shots compared to 81 shots from downtown. That's 6.75 three-point shots per two-point attempt. He has taken 24.5% of his team's three-pointers.

Experienced coaches, in a different way

Unics head coach Evgeny Pashutin is one of two coaches – Rimas Kurtinaitis is the other – to win the Eurocup more than once. He won the title with Unics in 2011 and with Lokomotiv in 2013. Pashutin, who also coached CSKA Moscow to the 2010 Euroleague Final Four, owns a 46-15 record in the Eurocup. Zielona Gora head coach Saso Filipovski may be five years younger, but he was Olimpija's assistant coach when Pashutin played for CSKA back in the 2002-03 season. Filipovski has coached in Slovenia, Poland, Germany, Russia and Italy. He took Turow to the ULEB Cup quarterfinals in 2008 and wants to do the same with Zielona Gora. Pashutin has the experience of elite games and Filipovski, the know-how of being there for many, many years despite being just 41 years of age.