Virtus and the 20-win curse

Apr 07, 2021 by Print
Virtus and the 20-win curse

Game 1 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals between Virtus Segafredo Bologna and UNICS Kazan was one of the most intense showdowns in continental basketball so far this season. When the dust settled, Virtus had matched a EuroCup record by winning its 20th consecutive game, defeating UNICS 80-76 to go up 1-0 in the series and matching one of the greatest records in the competition.

Only one other team has managed to get to 20 consecutive EuroCup wins: Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar even did so twice. However, in neither of those time did Lokomotiv end up winning the competition.

Its first 20-game winning streak started with its biggest victory in the competition, a 64-75 victory over Uxue Bilbao Basket in the 2013 championship game for its only EuroCup trophy. When Lokomotiv returned to the competition in 2014-15, it won its next 19 EuroCup games, led by Malcolm Delaney, Anthony Randolph, Derrick Brown and Krunoslav Simon. Its only loss of the season, 58-79 against UNICS, cost it dearly. Lokomotiv lost its two-game, total-points quarterfinals series and was eliminated. Lokomotiv's record from the 2014-15 campaign 19-1, remains the best in competition history.

Lokomotiv recorded 20 consecutive wins again in the 2017-18 season. That team, led by Mardy Collins, Ryan Broekhoff, Dmitry Kulagin and Frank Elegar, reached the EuroCup Finals undefeated and had its 21st consecutive victory almost in its hands. It led against Darussafaka Istanbul 72-69 with the ball and 11.0 seconds left. Howard Sant-Ross got a steal and Scottie Wilbekin hit one of the most iconic three-pointers in competition history, allowing Darussafaka to force overtime, win the game and eventually lift the trophy.

Virtus's winning streak started with its last Top 16 game in the 2019-20 season, in which it beat Darussafaka 96-106. Virtus has been undefeated in the EuroCup ever since, though it has not always been easy. On Tuesday, UNICS rallied from a double-digit deficit to take a 61-64 lead with over 7 minutes left. The Italian powerhouse needed a go-to guy and Milos Teodosic, its natural choice, stepped up big.

With the game tied at 64-64, Milos Teodosic scored or assisted on Virtus's next 10 points. He banked in a running shot in the lane, found Giampaolo Ricci for a layup, sent a sensational bounce pass to Vince Hunter for a slam, scored in the low post and sank a six-meter jumper. All of a sudden, Virtus led 74-68 and Teodosic had made the difference in the game.

Teodosic scored 11 of his 27 points - 1 point shy of his personal best - in the final 6 minutes to which he added a couple of key assists. He made the game-sealing free throws down the stretch. All of that allowed him to finish the game with a PIR of 34, a new EuroCup career-high.

"We spent a lot of energy tonight. We are 1-0, good result, but we need to get one more win," Teodosic said after the game. "We have three days until the next game so we need to recover, rest and go to Kazan focused and mentally ready for one more tough game in Russia."

That extra win that Teodosic spoke about would allow Virtus to make history in many ways. First, Virtus would break the 20-win curse and set a new record for most consecutive victories. Second, it would allow Virtus to reach its first EuroCup Finals. And finally, Virtus would become the first Italian team to reach the EuroCup Finals. It is already the fourth Italian team to reach the semifinals. All three Italian teams that previously reached the semifinals - Benetton Treviso in 2011, Dolomiti Energia Trento in 2016 and Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia in 2018 - were stopped at that stage.