Khimik had control of their EuroCup Group D game last week against BC Barons of Riga.
Or so they thought.
After scoring 12 straight points to begin the fourth quarter, the team from Ukraine led 60-51.
Over the next eight minutes, their hopes of sealing a place in the EuroCup Quarter final round evaporated with Barons eventually prevailing 71-65.
Barons improved to 4-1 and clinched a place in the next stage of the competition.
|Sasa Bratic has led Khimik in scoring during the EuroCup.|
For Khimik (3-2), they face their hardest game of the season against Lokomotiv Rostov in a clash that sees the winner advance, and the loser finish their EuroCup season.
"Everything was in our hands in the game against Barons and if we had won it, we would finish first and tomorrow's game would be like a friendly match," said Khimik's Goran Cakic.
"After losing that one, we gave Rostov a chance to advance and they will do everything to use it."
Cakic, who hails from Serbia, will play a vital role if Khimik are to overcome Rostov on Tuesday in what is shaping up to be one of the most thrilling of the qualifying round ties.
He spoke at length with FIBA Europe the day before the game.
FIBA Europe: Goran, congratulations on a terrific year so far in the EuroCup. There is still a lot of work for Khimik to do to reach the next round, though. What must you do well as a team to beat Lokomotiv Rostov?
Cakic: "It's the most important moment for us and we are not in very good shape and we do not have the best game we had a month ago. We are psychologically down after last week. Everything was in our hands in the game against Barons and if we had won it, we would have finished first and tomorrow's (Tuesday's) game would be like a friendly match. After losing that one, we gave Rostov a chance to advance and now they will do everything to use it. They have the biggest budget in the group and it will be a tough task for us to beat them, but we need to show everybody that we deserve to be in the next round."
FIBA Europe: Statistically, Goran, you are having a much better year than last year. Why the improvement?
Cakic: "I had a much better second part of the season last year - we took third place after beating Cherkaski and I played well. I did nothing special, just continued to practice the same way and to work on the same skills.
FIBA Europe: Goran, for those who may not be familiar with your background, where have you played in the past and how would you rate basketball in Ukraine? Is it one of the fastest-growing leagues and a great place to play, or are you looking forward to leaving at the earliest opportunity?
Cakic: "Well, I have experience of playing in Europe and when I came here last year, I saw the lowest level of basketball. But I thought it was going to be worse. But I saw (and everybody who comes here sees) that every year it's a much better league and a lot of people like [Alexandr] Volkov, who is the president of the Basketball Federation, try to bring it to a higher level."
FIBA Europe: Why did you stay more than one year?
Cakic: "Last April, Khimik offered me a nice contract and I couldn't refuse. The good thing now is that I know what's here and what to expect. Unlike in some other countries, teams here have no financial problems and are paying on time. I personally think that Khimik has the best (for a team of such caliber) facilities in Europe. There is everything you need to play and practice."
FIBA Europe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. You come from Serbia, one of the real hotbeds of basketball in Europe for many, many years. How did you get involved in the game?
Cakic: "We have a lot of basketball schools in Serbia and everybody likes to play, it's a tradition. A father of
my friend was a coach at a private basketball school and he talked us into attending it so I started at 11 years old. My first coach was Zoran Prelevic. Growing up we were lucky to have access to gyms and practices and I had really good teammates - Milos Vujanic and Vladimir Radmanovic played with me for five years."
|Cakic believes Dusan Ivkovic has what it takes to bring Serbia back to the top of European basketball.|
FIBA Europe: What are your emotions regarding the national team in Serbia, and will you get the chance to play under new coach Dusan Ivkovic?
Cakic: "No, I don't think so... Now it's different. There is a change of generations. In the past, I had great chances to play for the national team. I played for all age levels from cadets to U20 and was even a top scorer at the 2000 U20 European Championship. After that, I made some bad decisions playing for bad teams and I lost my "weight" for the national team. Now it will be hard because Ivkovic is trying to bring new players that will be the future for the next 15 years."
FIBA Europe: Will your homeland return to the top of the game internationally?
Cakic: "I am very sad and I hate what happened to the national team when I look at its last five years. We used to be so high that if someone told me we would be where we are now in five years, I would not believe it. I don't understand how we managed to play those bad games and make bad decisions to now have to play qualification for the European Championship. But I think Ivkovic can save this and everybody hopes that he will stay and keep doing this tough job."
FIBA Europe: In Ukraine's Superliga, does Khimik have the ability to beat Azovmash and BC Kyiv to the title?
Goran Cakic: "I think there are no chances. Azovmash and Kyiv have 10-times bigger budgets than us. I don't want to say that money is everything, but having it allows you to bring in more high-quality players. Kyiv is a very good team with a very good coach. We played against them two days ago - we had some chances but they were so well prepared, we couldn't handle them. I like that team and I think they will be first.
FIBA Europe: But you beat Azovmash this season, right?
Goran Cakic: "Azovmash had coaching problems and a lot of injuries - that's when we managed to catch them by surprise, by winning in Mariupol. But to do something more against them in a best of five series, especially with them having the home-court advantage, would be hard. We need to look forward to competing with Cherkaski, who also have a big budget and got a new coach who should make them better. Lviv and Sumy are the two other teams we need to watch out for, especially on the road."
FIBA Europe: Goran, thanks for providing us with such a good look at your team, Khimik, and for talking about Serbia. It's been very interesting. Best of luck for the remainder of the season.