|09 April 2014|
BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|Rasko Katic provided the clutch plays for Crvena Zvezda in their first leg win |
The pair of this year's Eurocup finalists will emerge on Wednesday evening from two clashes which will culminate in the competition's return to a somewhat traditional format.
In what could be deemed to be either a throwback to the (not-so-distant) basketball past, or a nod to football club competitions, Eurocup eliminated the play-off match-ups in this edition and instead opted for home-and-away two-legged ties from its Last 32 stage onwards.
The approach certainly resonated with European audiences, if the combined attendance of 31,000 fans in the two first-leg clashes of the semi-finals is anything to go by.
Last week, a fantastic crowd of 22,736 fans at Belgrade's Kombank Arena, which included tennis star Novak Djokovic and the surviving members of the legendary team that had led Crvena Zvezda to the top of Europe 40 years ago, watched on as the home side grinded out a 63-52 win over Unics Kazan.
The game was a rather cagey affair for the best part of the first three quarters but center Rasko Katic, who made his first appearance with the Serbian national team at EuroBasket 2013, scored 12 of his 14 points in the clutch to propel Crvena Zvezda on an 11-0 run at the start of the final frame.
The return leg tips off at 17:00 CET on Wednesday in Kazan and although Basket Hall Kazan, the home arena of Unics, holds 7,500 spectators rather than over 20,000, the Russian side of coach Andrea Trinchieri has yet to lose a game at home in this EuroCup season.
"Unics has demonstrated that it is a team of a level even higher than that of the Eurocup," Red Star head coach Dejan Radonjić said.
"At home, they've beaten Lokomotiv Kuban by 28 points and Lietuvos Rytas by 20 points earlier in the season.
"We will most likely be without Ivan Radenović, but I am sure that all our other players will do their best.
|"We will have to play a physical game, especially on defence, because I think defence will be the key" - Belgian international and Valencia guard Sam Van Rossom on his team's return leg game against Nizhny Novgorod |
"Except for some minor adjustments, we will not change our game plan from what we showed in the first game in Belgrade."
Katic is aware that Red Star will have to try their best in order to defend their 11-point first-leg lead.
"Unics have shown before that they are able to win by a wide margin at home," the veteran said.
"They have a lot of good players that can win a game like this, not just [Andrew] Goudelock, but also [Chuck] Eidson, [Nikos] Zisis and [Kostas] Kaimakoglou and they can all play much better than in Belgrade."
In the return leg of the second semi-final tie, Nizhny Novgorod are playing host to Valencia at 17:40 CET.
The first encounter was a typical game of runs which seemed to be resolved in favour of the Spanish hosts when they made the most of a third-quarter burst to gain a 22-point lead.
If this was a play-off series Nizhny could have let go of the game at that stage but with the point differential playing a pivotal role in this two-leg format, the Russian side made a final push and ultimately reduced the gap to just nine points, 84-75.
Young Montenegrin international Bojan Dubljevic collected a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds and was named MVP of the first game of the semi-finals, while Spanish guard Pau Ribas also delivered a great performance for Valencia and finished with 17 points, five boards and six assists.
"We have to step out on the court at 100% right away," Valencia point guard Sam Van Rossom said about the second leg.
"We will have to play a physical game, especially on defence, because I think defence will be the key."
Valencia coach Velimir Perasovic on the other hand did not let out any of his tactical plans, but agreed with the Belgian international on the importance of intensity throughout the entire game.
"It's important to remember that the advantage we have is good, but not decisive," Perasovic said.
"In order to win we will have to play very tough, very focused, and play like that for 40 minutes.
"They are such a good team that they gain an advantage in a very short amount of time, as they showed in the first game."
The Eurocup Final also adopts the same home-and-away format this year, with the first leg of the tie taking place on 1 May and the second game on 7 May.