|10 April 2014|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Greek international Nikos Zisis was named MVP of Game 2 of the semi-finals|
When Unics Kazan and Valencia were battling it out for first place in Group O of the Eurocup Last 32, little did they imagine that their paths would cross again in the finals of the competition.
Unics had won both those close games in the winter and snatched top spot in the group ahead of the Spanish side, but everything will be different when the two old foes meet again in the two-legged Eurocup final.
The first game of the finals takes place on Thursday 1 May in Valencia and no matter what its result is, the Eurocup 2014 champions will be crowned in Kazan on 7 May.
Both clubs have tasted this kind of success before, as Valencia have won the competition on two occasions, in 2003 and 2010, while Unics were proclaimed champions in 2011.
That Unics side had defeated Cajasol Sevilla 92-77 in the final in Treviso, behind a great performance by former Croatian international Marko Popovic, who was named Final Four MVP.
On Wednesday night, the Russian team used an outstanding late display by another veteran European guard, Greek national team co-captain Nikos Zisis, to overcome an 11-point deficit from the first leg of their semi-final clash with Crvena Zvezda Belgrade.
Zisis was named MVP of Game 2 of the semi-finals after going 4-of-6 from three-point range and collecting 26 points (all of them in the second half), four rebounds, five assists and registering a player efficiency rating of 31 to propel Unics to an 84-67 win at home.
The two teams had exchanged blows for most of the first half, a rhythm which served the interests of the Belgrade powerhouse to perfection.
The Russian hosts however scored the last four points in the second quarter to take a 42-36 lead at half-time and, when the two teams returned from the break, Zisis instigated an 11-2 run which enabled Unics to increase the gap to 53-38.
The Kazan side maintained the difference at double digits levels rather comfortably until the final buzzer, as fellow Greek international Kostas Kaimakoglou finished with 12 points and eight rebounds and Andrew Goudelock chipped in with 17 points, albeit on 7-of-18 from the floor.
Serbian center Boban Marjanovic registered a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds for Crvena Zvezda in a losing effort.
"I've seen many teams leading by 20 points in the second quarter and eventually winning the game by just five points," Unics head coach Andrea Trinchieri said.
"But we needed to win by 12, we were very smart about it and we deserved the win.
"This team deserved to play in the final, I am very happy for my players.
"Tonight is the night of the players, not of the coach."
|Bojan Dubljevic led a balanced Valencia offence with 13 points|
Unlike Unics, Valencia on Wednesday needed to defend a 9-point lead from the first leg of their semi-final tie with Nizhny Novgorod.
The two-time Eurocup winners did so in style, as they started pulling away from the Russian hosts midway through the first quarter and never looked back.
Valencia played fantastically solid defence, controlled the pace to deny Nizhny any hopes of scoring easy baskets in transition and led 39-25 at the half-time buzzer.
The Russian side came back from the locker rooms showing they were determined to make a last stand but Valencia reacted furiously to those signs of resistance, stepped up their offensive pace and the gap ballooned to 66-39 by the end of the third quarter.
With Valencia leading by 37 points on aggregate the fourth quarter was purely procedural and the Spanish visitors celebrated a well-deserved 79-53 victory at the final buzzer.
Montenegrin international Bojan Dubljevic finished with 13 points and six rebounds and led the no less than 10 Valencia players who scored five points or more on Wednesday.
"We've played one of our best games this season, especially on defence, and things worked out really well," said Valencia head coach Velimir Perasovic.
"Now we have the most important part ahead of us, against a team that has beaten us twice.
"Back then, we were missing Pablo Aguilar, Vladimir Lucic and Serhiy Lishchuk (due to injury) but in any case it will again be a very difficult tie.
"There are very few teams right now at the level of Unics."