|Red Wing Nikita Balashov soars to the basket|
Russia's representatives in the EuroChallenge, Krasnye Krylia Samara, returned to action on Monday night after a two-week break, looking in top shape.
The last game of Sergey Bazarevich's side in 2012 was a 75-72 defeat at powerhouse CSKA Moscow on 23 December in the Russian PBL league, a result that interrupted an otherwise flawless end-of-year-run.
No one who watched that game though left with the impression that Krasnye Krylia were in any way an inferior side to the multi-winning Euroleague champions.
The Samara outfit played host to Ukrainian side Azovmash in the VTB league on Monday and confirmed that the result in Moscow was merely a blip in their steady flight towards the top, by clinching a 72-62 win.
Krasnye Krylia dominated proceedings from start to finish, held an 11-point advantage at half-time (42-31) and were never really in danger, despite an Azovmash attempt at a comeback in the second half.
Former Russian international Nikita Balashov warmed the crowd in MTL Arena with several spectacular plays and led all scorers with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor.
Kulagin has had an uneven start to the season, but on Monday he reminded the young prodigy that impressed last year with BC Triumph Lyubertsy.
He spent 23 minutes on the floor and finished with 12 points and four assists.
Smith meanwhile, who returned to action in the beginning of December after a two-month lay-off due to injury, looked again like the player who impressed in Italy last season and collected a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double.
The contract of Jeremiah Massey, the player who had been brought in to fill in for him, run out and he departed the club to join German champions Bamberg, but Smith's performance on Monday showed that Krasnye Krylia can be satisfied he is back in full form and Massey will not be missed.
The Samara team improved to 7-3 with the victory and are tied in third place in Group A with Khimki, but hold the head-to-head advantage over the Turkish Airlines Euroleague surprise package.