Two of the best defenses in the 7DAYS EuroCup clash in this intriguing series. Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar is in the semifinals for just the second time; it won the competition in 2013. Unicaja made its EuroCup debut this season and is now just four wins from the title!
Coaches with results
Three seasons in the EuroCup and three appearances in the final? Not quite, but that will be true for Unicaja’s Joan Plaza if his team wins this series. Plaza previously guided Real Madrid to the 2007 ULEB Cup crown and took Cajasol Sevilla to the 2011 title game before falling to Unica Kazan. Sasa Obradovic is in his first season on the Lokomotiv bench and tasted sweet success often as a player, including three EuroBasket gold medals and the 1998 World Championships with the Yugoslavian national team. These two coaches have met before in the EuroLeague and split the four home games between them. Interestingly, Plaza’s teams (Zalgiris Kaunas in 2012-13 and Unicaja in 2014-15) won the first meeting of the season before Obradovic’s ALBA Berlin rebounded to take the second leg.
Getting better all the time
It doesn’t always matter how well you play in the autumn, if you are at your best in the spring. And that is the case for both Lokomotiv and Unicaja. The former lost three in a row early in the regular season and finished fourth in Group D with a 3-5 record. Unicaja lost two of its first three games and placed fourth in Group C at 4-4. They were the only two teams not to finish in a top two spot in the regular season and to advance to the quarterfinals. And now they will clash for a ticket to the finals! Lokomotiv turned things around in time for the Top 16, which it started by routing Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas 71-86 on the road. It won that group with a 5-1 record and swept Zenit St. Petersburg in the quarters. Unicaja finished the Top 16 with a 3-3 record and fell into a hole by losing Game 1 of the quarterfinals at FC Bayern Munich, but bounced back by playing its best back-to-back defensive games of the season to win the series. So it doesn’t really matter what happened in November because Lokomotiv and Unicaja are looking good in March!
Both teams have some phenomenal scorers; Lokomotiv guard Taylor Rochestie was the 2015 Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy winner in the EuroLeague and his Unicaja counterpart, Kyle Fogg, led the German League in scoring last season. Despite those weapons, these teams put defense first. Lokomotiv has limited teams to the fewest points in the competition this season (73.3 per game) and Unicaja the fourth-fewest (75.6) including 67 and 69 points, respectively, in the last two quarterfinal games against FC Bayern Munich. How they excel on defense is much different. Lokomotiv dominates on the glass; it is third in the EuroCup in rebounding (37.8 rpg.) and allows the fewest rebounds (28.1 rpg.). But it also is last in the competition at forcing turnovers (12.3 per game). Unicaja, which interestingly enough has collected the fewest steals (5.6 spg.), is fourth in blocks (2.9 bpg.). Lokomotiv’s aggressive style has it fourth in the competition in fouls committed (23.4 per game), while Unicaja has committed the third-fewest (19.6). So clearly each team has a different approach, but both Lokomotiv and Unicaja will be relying on defense to get results.
Depth over stars
When you look at the stats for each of these teams, you will see that both have a lot of key contributors, but neither has a dominant go-to guy. Four Lokomotiv players are averaging double figures in scoring. Three are for Unicaja. With the exception of Lokomotiv’s Mardy Collins (10th in rebounding with 5.7 per game) and Unicaja’s Dejan Musli (10th in blocks at 0.8 per game), neither team has a player ranked in the top 10 for any major statistical category this season. For Lokomotiv, 10 different players averaged at least 10 minutes per game for the season and that number stayed the same in the quarterfinals. Unicaja featured 11 players with at least 10 minutes per game for the season and 10 of them (Dani Diez slipped to 24 minutes over the three-game series) did so in the quarterfinals. However, do not get fooled into thinking that one guy can’s take over with a hot hand: Collins has four games with a performance index rating of at least 20 and Matt Janning has scored at least 19 points four times for Lokomotiv. And Unicaja’s Kyle Fogg has three games with an index rating of at least 25 and two games with more than 25 points!
Working their way into the record books
Unicaja center Alen Omic did not start the season targeting EuroCup glory; he had different goals with Anadolu Efes Istanbul. However since he moved to Unicaja, the center has been able to continue climbing into the EuroCup record books. Omic enters the semifinals ranked 12th all-time in rebounds with 370 and needs 25 more to catch Chuck Davis for 10th place. Moreover, Omic is ninth in offensive rebounds with 135 and could climb as high as sixth by the end of this series. To do so, his will need to pass Petr Benda (136, eighth), Antanas Kavaliauskas (137, seventh) and Sitapha Savane (139, sixth). And Omic needs 39 more points to crack the EuroCup’s all-time top 50 scorers. He is not alone among the climbers. Lokomotiv guard Dmitry Khvostov is now eighth in career EuroCup assists with 306 and needs 3 more to catch Omar Cook for seventh place. And Ian Vougioukas needs 1 more blocked shot to become the 17th man with 50 rejections in his EuroCup career.