Right, now we’re into it! BallinEurope was naturally pleased to see his dark horse elite-eight candidate Unics Kazan defend home court against Fenerbahçe Ülker on opening night of the 2011-12 Euroleague Top 16 round, 76-71 – though it sure wasn’t easy for Unics after they generously spotted the Turkish side a 17-point lead at halftime. A few talking points for you, then … and BiE’ll go ahead and do this bullet-point style.

• This game was quite the textbook example of the 13th man’s value to Kazan, as the second half was all Unics riding the home support after a disastrous second quarter.

• What was the deal with the Unics bench? Is coach Evgeny Pashutin simply unwilling to go seven deep with this side? Pashutin looked to be running his preferred quintet into the ground as Nathan Jawai, in for about 11 minutes, proved the only viable substitute for the Russian team last night. Terrell Lyday, Vladimir Veremeenko, Petr Samoylenko, Henry Domercant, and Mike Wilkinson all went for 28 minutes or more to score 68 of the team’s 76 points. Yes, Jawai had the other eight.

BiE gut feeling questioned why Lynn Greer got 10½ minutes of playing time and Kelly McCarty only saw 7½ despite neither looking particularly sharp.

On the other hand, maybe Pashutin is simply doing the clever “small market” thing; minutes appear to be well evenly distributed in Kazan’s PBL play and a bit less so in VTB United League games. Last Sunday, Kazan hosted VEF Riga; with a VTB game on Saturday vs. Minsk 2006 and possibly in Russia on Sunday vs. BC Khimki Moscow region, Pashutin is probably applying the soccer coach mentality and leaving a few top-tier players with energy to play in less crucial games. They’ll have to rely on an assist from that no. 13 again, with the four games in seven days; thus far, Unics is 2-0 in the homestand.

• And, of course, Bostjan Nachbar is not yet aboard. Strange that while statistically the battle for the boards was nearly dead even at 33 for Fenerbahçe and 32 for Unics, empirically the latter appeared to kill the former on the glass. With four, Veremeenko was the only Kazan player to notch more than one offensive board – a situation that should improve with Nachbar aboard – though the Russian side won anyway…

• Playing without the injured Roko Ukic (and Mirsad Turkcan suiting up but taking a DNP) seemingly put Fenerbahçe at a disadvantage outside going into the match, but the unexpected emerged: Bojan Bogdanovic and Omer Onan teed off to go a combined 7-of-9 on threes, while the team shot 50% overall beyond the arc.

And yet … the Fenerbahçe frontcourt was beaten badly and consistently in the second half. Oguz Savas, Gasper Vidmar and Emir Preldzic were harassed by foul trouble – the latter two throughout the game – and saw limited playing time.

• Incidentally, Bogdanovic was high scorer in the game with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting, getting particularly brilliant in the second while scoring from everywhere to contribute 13 during his team’s unanswered 15-point run. How badly do you want this guy in the ‘States, Nets fans?

• True as ever is the European basketball fan’s answer to his/her NBA counterpart who scoffs as the lower number of games played on the Continent: “Yes, but in Europe nearly every game matters as opposed to meaningless games in April in America.” Unics Kazan now sits atop Group G at 1-0, while Fenerbahçe Ülker has dug itself a “hole” at 0-1 … and already the complexion of the Top 16 has changed.

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