Azovmash Mariupol and BC Kyiv have both celebrated victories in this weekend’s Ukrainian Superleague matches and will remain 1st and 2nd respectively at least until this Wednesday, when last year’s finalists will face each other in Mariupol.
The defending champions Azovmash were taken to the wire by MBC Odessa and only overcame the home side in the last minute.
Both teams relied on their new signings Silas Mills (12 points and 7 rebounds for Mariupol) and James Bayless (16 points and 2 rebounds for Odessa), however it was Art Long’s 32 points and 9 rebounds which lifted the home side to an important 93:89 triumph.
BC Kyiv traveled to Yuzhniy, where they aimed to avenge a December loss. The visitors, who have just advanced into the FIBA Europe Final Four, were shorthanded, missing big men Ioannis Giannoulis, Oleg Saltovets, Olexiy Pecherov and Veljko Mrsic to various injuries.
|Lamarr Greer (BC Kyiv)|
With only Kreso Loncar and Marcelo Nicola manning the frontcourt, Renato Pasquali had a difficult task of readjusting the strategy – with inexperienced youngsters Sergei Gorbenko and Vladimir Orlenko at backup, the starting forwards couldn’t afford to foul out.
“When we started with a man-to-man defense, our big men quickly received several personal fouls and I had to set up a “zone”. Normally, when our opponents score 3-4 three-pointers in a row, I revert to “man-to-man”, but not today. We kept playing “zone” to avoid fouling out,” said BC Kyiv’s head coach.
And this strategy brought its dividends. After losing the first quarter 22-17, BC Kyiv added some intensity on defense and outscored their opponents 6:23 in the second, having received the first team foul with less than two minutes to go.
Khimik’s leader Serhiy Lishchuk, together with point-guard Andrius Lepinaitis dominated in the 3rd quarter. Lishchuk demonstrated his athleticism, having blocking 4 shots (he finished the game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks) and Lepinaitis was red-hot from beyond the arc (he finished with team-high 20 points on a 6/8 3-point shooting). Their efforts narrowed Kyiv’s lead to just one point and revived Yuzhniy’s hopes for a positive result.
“Having spent a lot of mental energy in Israel, it was difficult for us to concentrate on this game,” commented Pasquali. “I told my players to break it up into four smaller games [quarters] and concentrate on each one separately.”
Kyiv entered the final “10-minute game” up by one.
The score remained close for most of the final quarter and it was Lamar Greer, who took over the leadership role just when it mattered the most. He scored two crucial in-your-face three-pointers, after which Kyiv got some breathing room and converted into a 70-75 win.
Lamarr finished with a game-high 25 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists.
“When I saw Yuzhniy warm up”, added Pasquali, “I was afraid we were going to lose by 20. They looked so athletic and had so much energy.
“I knew that we would only be able to have a chance to go for a win if Yuzhniy shot below 40% from beyond the arc (they fired 9/31 – 29%), which they did.
“I am pleased with our work on the offensive end tonight – although we had a few rushed shots, we would consistently deliver the ball to the right man at the right moment.”
Khimik’s head coach Zvezdan Mitrovic also shared his thoughts about the game – “We tried to use our big men at maximum, knowing what kind of line-up problems Kyiv had. However, after they started to use “zone”, we encountered our old problem – poor three-point shooting, which was also a factor in our losses to Azovmash and UNICS.
“It seems that the problem is more psychological, since we have no difficulty scoring against weaker opponents.
“Lamarr Greer scored two contested three-pointers, which were not lucky. He usually makes those shots – he made them in Israel and made them today.”