Pashutin predicted the game, but Langford and Colom decided everything: how UNICS remained in the fight for play-off
Kazan players won their second victory in a row in Euroleague on 22 December. This time they defeated celebrated Žalgiris in Kaunas 80-88. So Evgeny Pashutin's players continued their fight for the play-off having got rid of one of the rivals on their way. Realnoe Vremya tells how UNICS created problems during the match to heroically solve them at the end.
Match of answers to questions
The series of decisive battles for UNICS-Kazan in the hunt for the leaving train called Euroleague play-off was not on 22 December but in the match against Galatasaray from Istanbul at home. Kazan players confidently defeated Turks. And the away battle against Lithuanian Žalgiris was to be a logical continuance of this hunt or admittance of only a partial victory over Turks. Celebrated and one of the oldest European teams of Europe Žalgiris from Kaunas has been actively fighting to reach the play-off having occupied the ninth place in the table of this year's Euroleague. What a result can we be speaking about if they don't win their direct rivals?
Meanwhile, Žalgiris unexpectedly won 2 points in an away match against Anadolu Efes before the game against Kazan. That result allowed the Baltic club to leave the group of outsiders behind and join the fight for the play-off. The legendary could have cemented its position if it had won UNICS. But it did not.
Kazan players reached Kaunas through Moscow with many adventures. Pashutin's guys played their recent match just recently — on 20 December. Initially, the plane with the team circled Moscow. Then there was a pause at Vnukovo because of the plane's technical state. As a result, UNICS appeared on the court in Lithuania only at 9 o'clock on the match day.
Pashutin predicted the game before the starting whistle
Before the match, head coach of UNICS Evgeny Pashutin was absolutely right while highlighting key points of the battle (the game showed it later).
''To fight near the backboard is the most important thing for us today. Žalgiris plays fast basketball in front of its spectators and makes its rival lose control of the game. Here it is very important to keep the balance, don't start to play ''hit and rush'', just control the pace of the game and fight near the backboards. A team who controls the backboard control the game. In attack, we will look for the rival's weak links, move the ball, play carefully like we did against Galatasaray, use our forte, attack, look for exchange,'' the official page of UNICS cited Kazan players' coach. Going forward: Pashutin's guys could not perform their coach's requirements during the greatest part of the match, they failed near the backboards and could not stop the rival.
Anyway, basketball in Lithuania means more than it does in Russia. The game to full house with UNICS, not Barcelona, showed the difference from Kazan's usual semi-empty stands of Basket Hall. Langford was the main question for the guests. It became known before the match, the American was going to play.
Indeed, Langford appeared on the court from the very kick-off. He was the first to move UNICS forwards with a middle-range shot — 0-6. And Colom's three-pointer increased the margin to +7 — 2-9. He performed a dribble with the help of Parakhouski. A powerful dunk, and the host team took time out 4-11. It did not help! Langford dribbled towards the basket and made the margin +10 in favour of Kazan players — 6-16 by the middle of the first quarter.
The guest team played badly during the end of the first ten minutes having lost rebounds in their backboard. The quarter ended 19-23 in favour of UNICS. It could have been worse if Voronov's crazy shot out of the arc were not successful.
UNICS' weak points and tradition failure of the third quarter
Two things were clear in the 3rd minute of the second quarter. The host team took the lead in rebounds and three-pointers — 26-28 after Jankūnas' shot, and UNICS had a margin of 2 points instead of 10 it had. The host team had a good excellence — 11-0 and were ahead for the first time — 30-28. In the second half of the quarter before the break, the teams scored points with great difficulty. It especially refers to Kazan players whose Johnson awfully played his minutes. However, Žalgiris won the quarter. They had two free throws and ended the first half of the match with a small handicap — 46-43. Rebounds, especially near their backboard, was an obvious problem of UNICS in the two quarters. What is more, the guest team did not manage to scotch the high pace of the game in the second quarter that Žalgiris likes much. It is clear that Evgeny Pashutin paid great attention to it. And only the game could show the result.
The teams' accuracy was not very good in the first five minutes of the quarter. Only Kaimakoglou failed his three shots (one three-pointer and one shot out of the hoop). But he was remembered for a successful shot out of the arc at the fourth attempt, so that he reduced the point deficit to two points — 54-52. Kazan players completely failed the end of the third quarter. Lithuanian players performed three rebounds in the rival's backboard during one (!) attack. Everything ended with a three-pointer by Lekavičius and -11 before the last quarter in favour of Žalgiris — 69-58.
Miraclous saving named after Kazan
That part was to be a key one. However, all of a sudden Žalgiris shivered at the most unsuitable moment for itself. In the third minute of the last quarter, Kaimakoglou made a successful shot out of the arc and insinuated an intriguing end — 69-63 in favour of the host team. Then Parakhouski had two short-range shots, Langford was accurate, so that the score became 70-69 in the fifth minute of the last quarter. Two key moments at the end of the match allowed UNICS to win. At first, Colom scored points in rebounds when 4 minutes left, 72-75 in favour of UNICS. And Langford shot a very difficult ball with a resistance because of the arc 1.39 to the whistle — 78-82. The host team had to use fouls. But it had no use. 80-88 is a very important victory for UNICS on the way of recovery in Euroleague in the fight for the play-off.
Žalgiris (Lithuania) — UNICS (Russia) — 80-88 (19-23, 27-20, 23-15, 11-30)
Žalgiris — Jankūnas (21), Kavaliauskas (14), Motum (11); UNICS — Langford (26), Parakhouski (24), Colom (15), Kaimakoglou (13)