BC Khimki will be hoping for a different outcome when they take on Dynamo St. Petersburg later this evening at the Sports Palace in Kiev.
Last year the two clubs squared off in the EuroCup semi-finals and Dynamo prevailed 92-81 en route to claiming the title.
“They don´t want to be knocked out by the same team two years in a row, so I am sure they will come out on top of their game,” said Dynamo forward Kelly McCarty.
Khimki is hoping to get past the defending champions and nothing short of the title will appease coach Sergey Elevich.
“We will not settle for anything less than first place,” he said.
Despite being the defending champions, Dynamo first-year head coach Fotis Katsikaris does not see his club as one of the favourites.
“Coming in I feel that we are the underdogs,” he said.
“We had to fight so hard just to get here and the other teams have many experienced players. That´s just my impression being here.”
The road to the Final Four was not always clear for Dynamo, contrary to one year ago when they went undefeated for the entire season.
|Dynamo went undefeated last season to win the FIBA Europe League title|
Dynamo was 1-3 in Round II and staring elimination in the face. The Russian club won their next two games to finish in a tie for second place in their group and only advanced to the quarter-finals thanks to coming out on top in the tie-breaker.
Said McCarty: “We are the champions and everyone wants to knock us out. At the same time, we don´t have so much pressure because we had to work so hard just to get here.”
Dynamo will have to stop a Khimki team which has six different players who average double figures, led by Oscar Torres´ 14.7 points per game in the EuroCup.
“It´s a very important aspect of our team,” said Torres.
“Everyone can score, even the guys coming off the bench. I think everyone is 100 percent focused.”
Khimki made a significant mid-season roster move and added another player capable of scoring with the pick-up of German international Ademola Okulaja from Rhein Energie Cologne in January
Okulaja played in the 1997 NCAA Final Four with North Carolina and thus far has a positive impression of his first Final Four in Europe.
“It´s a great atmosphere and everything has been well organised,” he said.
Coming off knee surgery, Okulaja has averaged 16 minutes of playing time in three EuroCup games.
“My strength is back, but I just need to get used to repetition and being in basketball shape,” he said.
“I am happy for every minute coach has given me and when I am in there I will do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Dynamo offense centers on McCarty, who enters play averaging a team-best 12.9 points per game.
“He is their best player and we need to limit his touches,” said Torres. “We have to play aggressive defense and deny him the ball.”
Katsikaris hopes his club can play up-tempo basketball.
“The thing I tell my team is patience and speed,” said Katsikaris.
“We need to be strong for 40 minutes.”
In addition to their history in the EuroCup, Dynamo and Khimki also are familiar with each other from their Russian league encounters. The teams have squared off twice with each winning once.
“I don´t think it really matters,” said Katsikaris.
“There are different rules in the Russian league which make us use different rotations.”
The main difference Katsikaris is referring to is that the Russian league rules stipulate that at least two Russians must be on the court at all times.
Khimki´s roster features six non-Russians, while Dynamo have five.
“It doesn´t matter that we know each other,” Katsikaris added.
“In a game like this it comes to the details. One turnover or rebound can make the difference.”