A best-of-three semifinal series starts on Tuesday when Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar hosts Unicaja Malaga for the series opener in Russia. Both teams have momentum from road wins that clinched their quarterfinal series, but this will be their first confrontation in the EuroCup ever. Each has gotten better as the season progressed, too, with Lokomotiv (10-6) sweeping Zenit St. Petersburg with stellar defense in the quarters. Unicaja (9-8) was the only team to overturn home-court advantage in the last phase, knocking off dominant FC Bayern Munich in Game 3.
The hosts have been led this season by Mardy Collins (11.7 ppg., 5.7 rpg. and 3.5 apg.), with help from Matt Janning (11.5 ppg.) and Taylor Rochestie (11.5 ppg.). Unicaja has been looking to Kyle Fogg (12.6 ppg.) all season, but also to Dejan Musli (12.1 ppg.) and Jamar Smith (10.8 ppg.).
Lokomotiv has the competition's best defense, allowing just 73.3 points on average, while Unicaja's is fourth-best at 75.9 per game. Lokomotiv's success is based on interior defense, holding opposing two-point shooters to 47.7% accuracy, second-lowest in the competition. Unicaja, meanwhile, allows opponents just 10.7 free throws made on average, fewest in the EuroCup and 5.5 fewer than Lokomotiv. The visitors also make 2.5 more three-pointers per game than Lokomotiv.
Neither team relies on one or two stars and both go 10 players deep in their lineups, so any number of protagonists can make their presences felt at the start of a series that no one would be surprised to see reach its three-game limit.
Sasa Obradovic, Head Coach of PBC Lokomotiv Kuban:
- It’s the fifth Spanish team which we are going to play against this season. And along with Valencia, Unicaja is the strongest rival. Any player of Unicaja is able to show his best. They are very talented in all positions, especially in perimeter. However, Musli and Omic create a lot of problems under the rim. And we should stop not only guards, but also these two centers to win the game. Unicaja uses its experience and high quality of its players. It will be a tough series.
Andrey Zubkov, Forward of PBC Lokomotiv Kuban:
- We have reached the stage of the tournament when any mistake can cost everything. We had enough time to prepare for the semifinal series against Unicaja. And we plan to use our home-arena advantage. However, we don’t have any illusions about the Spaniards – they are very serious rivals who will fight till the end, and they have proved that in the series against Bayern. The coach has studied Unicaja and told us how to play against it, so we are ready.