Former champion, last season's runner-up and a perennial contender Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar is ready to make another run for the 7DAYS EuroCup title, but it will have to do so by winning on the road.
Both of Lokomotiv's biggest road wins came on German soil within less than 30 days. After downing ALBA Berlin in the last game of the regular season in late December, Lokomotiv paved its way to the EuroCup Quarterfinals with a dramatic 81-84 road win at ratiopharm Ulm in Round 3 of the Top 16. Veteran sharpshooter Vitaly Fridzon stepped up with a career-high 24 points in that game, while Dorell Wright had 14 points and 6 assists and Trevor Lacey tallied 14 points and 4 assists in victory. Thanks to that win, Lokomotiv was able to book its quarterfinals ticket already in Round 4.
Among the many stars on the team, it was forward Mateusz Ponitka who might have been the team's most consistent performer. He scored between 8 and 13 points in each Top 16 game and in 11 of his 15 appearances this season. In addition to 10.1 points, Ponitka has been big on the glass with 5.1 rebounds per game and has bothered opponents with 1.7 offensive rebounds and 1.1 steals. Ponitka has shot well from long range, knocking down 42.1%, and has forced the second-most personal fouls on the team (3.7 per game) while making 80.9% of his free throws. Quiet but reliable, Ponitka is a big reason Lokomotiv is contending for titles once again.
Size boost before quarterfinals
Lokomotiv had a deep and experienced, but undersized front line this season, with star center Jamel McLean standing 2.02 meters and its top power forward Dorrell Wright 1.98 meters. Forward JaJuan Johnson (2.08 meters) and center Vladimir Ivlev (2.07) served as the only two true big men, but that changed in the past month. First, with the addition of Dragan Apic, a young 2.05-meter Serbian center who needed just three games to earn MVP of the Round honors in the last game of the Top 16. Lokomotiv also got back its tallest player, the 2.18-meter center Moustapha Fall, who missed more than three months due to injury. These extra big bodies could be crucial for a long playoff run.
Why this team can win
Lokomotiv has tradition, experience and defense on its side. This is the sixth time in as many seasons Lokomotiv has at least reached the quarterfinals. The team has five players who helped the team reach the EuroCup Finals last season and this roster also features four former EuroCup champions (Vitaly Fridzon, Dmitry Khvostov, Stanislav Ilnitskiy and reigning champ JaJuan Johnson), one former Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champ (Dmitry Kulagin) and a player who knows what it feels to win both the EuroCup and EuroLeague (Fridzon). Lokomotiv's defense allows the third-fewest points per game (74.3 ppg. allowed). To go all the way, Lokomotiv might have to do it by winning on the road, however, it is the team with EuroCup's best road record, 7-1.