Unics Kazan breezed through the Qualifying Round of the FIBA Europe League with an 11-1 record. They also scored victory in the first game of their play-off series with Serb and Montenegrin side NIS Vojvodina, but were made to work hard for their victory in a scrappy game.
The increased pressure of the play-offs seemed to effect both teams in the opening minutes. They matched each other point-for-point but could only manage 11 apiece after 10 minutes of play.
Nenad Canak opened the 2nd quarter with a two 3-pointer for the visitors but Saulius Stombergas and Martin Müürsepp combined for 9-points (all on triples) to give Unics a 22:19 lead. It was a lead that Unics managed to keep, but they could not break away from Vojvodina and finished what proved to be a low-scoring first half ahead, 36:34.
The third quarter did not prove decisive in the game. Stombergas kept the offensive pressure on (he finished with 25 points) but Vojvodina played good defense and stayed well in sight. The quarter finished 53:49.
It was only in the 35th minute that the game was finally broken open and it came courtesy of a Valentin Koubrakov 3-pointer that saw Unics’ lead increase to 10. Within 2 minutes, the home side led by 18 points and Vojvodina were out of the contest.
Kebu Stewart and Canak combined for 8 points in the closing minutes to come back within 10, but the chance of victory was long gone.
Stombergas proved once again that he is a big-game player, pulling down 8 rebounds to go with his 25 points.
Canak and Kebu Stewart both performed well for Vojvodina. Canak had 19 points and Stewart grabbed 15 rebounds, but the team will be concerned about the form of Milan Gurovic. The national team player is a key part of the team’s attack but against Unics he could only manage 2 points and missed all of his three-pointers (0/5) and free throws (0/4).
Unics Kazan enters the play-offs as the number one contender to win the FIBA Europe League. During the Qualifying Round, their only slip-up came in the final game, an 85:80 defeat against Bosnian side CBC Siroki. Despite the setback, Kazan had already long secured the top spot in Group A and finished with a near perfect 11:1 record.
Unics are also flying high in the Russian Superleague and currently top the standings in front of rivals CSKA Moscow.
|Gurovic leads Vojvodina in scoring|
Unics will very much want to avoid a repeat of last year’s performance in the FIBA Europe Champions Cup. They dominated in the Pan-European round with a 6:0 record, only to suffer defeat in the play-offs at the hands of Latvian side BC Ventspils. In 2001 the side reached the semi-finals of the Saporta Cup, to lose to eventual champions and fellow FEL side, TIM Maroussi. Petr Samoilenko and Valentin Koubrakov are the only surviving members of that team.
Vojvodina also played last year in the Champions Cup, but did not make it out of the first round after a 4:6 record. Their 4 top scorers this year, Gurovic, Nenad Kanak, Kebu Stewart Predrag Suput are all new signings.
There will be interesting match-ups all over the court between these 2 sides, but the front court could well be decisive. Vojvodina’s scoring punch comes from the 2 forward postitions where Gurovic and Canak average 37ppg between them. They will have to match up with Kazan’s equally strong and versatile trio of Saulius Stombergas, Martin Müürsepp and Chris Anstey.
In the middle, Kebu Stewart has been a key peformer for Vojvodina averaging 15 points and 9 rebounds in his 3 games. At 203 cm he may have a tough time dealing with Kazan’s 216 cm Eurelijus Zukauskas, one of Europe’s most experienced centers.
Kazan is the second top rebounding team in the FEL, averaging 36.3 rebounds per game. Vojvodina on the other hand average just 28.9, fourth last, increasing the pressure on them to shoot well for the series.