Even before its charter flight plans went awry en route to Krasnodar, Russia on Wendesday, a huge task lay ahead for LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in its 7DAYS EuroCup Top 16 opening game against Lokomotiv Kuban.
Lokomotiv Kuban rarely loses EuroCup games at all, having compiled an 80-21 record this decade going into Wednesday's game. Of its 10 home losses historically, four had come in the quarterfinals or later. By contrast, ASVEL had never won a game outside of France after the regular season in eight EuroCup seasons dating to 2005-06.
ASVEL's flight was scheduled to reach Krasnodar in time for the players to rest earlier on Wednesday, but delays meant that the visitors had to go directly to Basket Hall for the game. It was a recipe for defeat against a Lokomotiv team that had the EuroCup's best record, 9-1, in the regular season.
Instead, ASVEL was able to do what it does best: defend and grab offensive rebounds. And when the dust settled, the same charter flight left with ASVEL taking a good-as-gold 65-67 win along for the ride home. Lokomotiv had only scored less at home six times before Wednesday. Meanwhile, ASVEL won in all hustle categories, pulling down a EuroCup season high of 22 offensive rebounds, blocking 6 shots and collecting 7 steals. Lokomotiv had 14 offensive rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals.
Far from hurting his team, head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic thought that ASVEL's travel troubles had something to do with the victory.
"It was a little bit of an unexpected game for us, especially because we had some problem with our trip today and we just came directly to the gym," he said at the post-game press conference. "So we played without any pressure, and I think it was much easier for my players. We had no pressure tonight and I think maybe that was the key for us."