Kirilenko: "Defense Is Our Trademark"


15. Andrei Kirilenko (Russia)
Andrei Kirilenko has not lost a game at EuroBasket since the Qualifying Round in 2007

By Yarone Arbel

The curtain will come down on the Preliminary Round on Monday evening, and Group D has saved the best for last - a game for the first place between two big teams as Russia and Slovenia.

The next round is already around the corner and both teams know the result of the game will be carried intor Round 2 in Vilnius, which makes it even more important than just taking top honours in Group D.

For Andrei Kirilenko every game matters and he knows why.

The EuroBasket 2007 gold medalist and MVP didn't participate in the 2009 campaign so his winning streak in EuroBasket goes far back to an 81-69 defeat to Spain in the Qualifying Round four years ago.

Since then, he has won eight games in a row at EuroBasket and that's not a common thing considering the heavy load on players and the tough opponent in such competition.

With averages of 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.0 steals through the first four games, Kirilenko is once again the main player on Russia's squad and the guy to stop.

So Russia is 4-0 but three of those wins were earned with sweat and went down to the wire, even against teams that on paper aren't considered in the same class as Russia.

"I'm not sure what we do to win these games in the stretch," said Kirilenko.

"There are a lot of good teams here and it's not easy to win by a large margin these days in European basketball because the level improved so much.

"Maybe we have some players with more experience that know what to do with the ball in the closing minutes and that's what helps us to win."

Trying to compare between the experiences of the golden team and the current one is a bit too far-fetched for Kirilenko who prefers to give each of the squads the credit they deserve.

"There are some differences between this team and the one from 2007," Kirilenko offered.

"First of all the 2007 won gold and this team still didn't do anything.

"The one from 2007 had a lot of veterans on it that felt like it's their last chance to do something big and fought really hard for it.

"The one from this year has a lot of young players that are still developing and gaining experience, but they are still great players who want to learn and become better.

"EuroBasket is really a great field for them to do that because the level is very high and it's very demanding also in the national level."

Targeting the title again might be a bit too early, but for a team that won only four years ago, Russia can't settle for less than a good performance again.

"We're a defensive oriented team and it's our business card," he explained.

"If we want to win games here that's what we need to do, and that's the only way we could beat Slovenia and roll on from there.

"They are a very good team with a lot of strong players here but we have our hopes.

"We want to make it to the title game again, but if that doesn't work out the minimum is to get a ticket to the Olympics Qualifying games.

"But we don't think about that yet. We take it game by game and that's the only way to make these things happen."

The first step towards achieveing those targets starts with taking care of Slovenia on Monday.


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