Don’t look now, but the Russians are coming. Or maybe that should be: The Russians Are Coming! Unics Kazan looked just great in disposing of Ratiopharm Ulm last night, 91-73, in the Euroleague Qualifying Round.
Team Greece’s Ian Vougioukas was good for 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting as again and again the new-look Kazan made him the end-user of some brilliant ball movement. Returning guard Terrell Lyday was a serious facilitator, getting 21 points himself including 5-of-8 on threes while dishing four assists; fellow returnee Petr Samolylenko found the shooter five times in 22½ minutes – while not taking a shot. Off-season acquisitions Chuck Eidson and Mire Chatman combined for 23 points and eight assists, demonstrating remarkable incorporation into Aco Petrovic’s offense.
Already BiE has BC Khimki and CSKA Moscow penciled in for the 2013 Euroleague quarterfinals; by demonstrating themselves the class of the play-in tournament, Unics Kazan could make BiE believe they’ll make noise in a potentially vulnerable Group A – and are we destined to see two Russian teams in London in May?
Across the bracket, underdogs Le Mans Sarthe earned the right to face Khimki by holding off BC Donetsk in a ground-out 61-55 win. As the French side frustrated the Ukrainians time and again in the fourth quarter, just under 80% of the scoring was provided by the quartet of double-digit scorers Cameron Long (the George Mason alum who’s been developing his skills in Lithuania for two seasons), Alain Koffi, Khalid El-Amin and Pape Sy.
(Damn, throw in João Paulo Batista, Dounia Issa and the Amazing Kahudi Brothers, and Le Mans may have the best-named roster in Europe.)
But despite the fact that Le Mans showed admirable depth – particularly for a French side – it was the Purple-and-Orange defense that stole the show. And the ball. And the game.
BiE can’t really see Le Mans holding such a front against the bigger, better shooters of Khimki, however. Can you? Visualize three Russia-based squads in Euroleague 2012-13, ‘cause right now that looks like a reality.