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No celebrations for CSKA just yet as Zenit look for more against Barca

Kevin Pangos drives past Barcelona's Nikola Mirotic, on Wednesday. Photo: Zenit St. Petersburg

CSKA Moscow shut down Nando De Colo in the fourth quarter to take Game 1 of the EuroLeague Playoffs against Fenerbahce on Wednesday with a 92-76 win. But they will have to remain focussed as in the words of head coach Dimitris Itoudis: “A hard and long series awaits”. 

On Wednesday, Will Clyburn put up a fantastic display in the paint with 20 points, but it was the Moscow side’s three-point shooting that highlighted their winning performance. Daniel Hackett joined Clyburn with 20, hitting four of five from three, as Semen Antunov had 9 with three of three made from beyond the arc.

Coach Itoudis extended his congratulations to his players, while admitting there were unnecessary turnovers which could have cost them the game.

“Congratulations to each of the players and to the entire team, it was a typical playoff match with a lot of emotions, in which each of the teams jerked,” Itoudis said. 

“We started off well, used our advantages, dealt with the zone defense of our opponents. At the same time, we lost balls too easily, and this was our problem until the last quarter. Another challenge was defense against Nando (De Colo), who scored 22 points in the first half. In the second half, we were less wrong.”

The CSKA coach emphasised that players like Vanya Ukhov were “tuned in” to the game.

“(Ukhov) came out in the last seconds of the second quarter, defended, hit a three pointer. It was clear that he was assembled and tuned into the game,” he said.

On the other hand, Fenerbahce will be looking for a way to help their star player De Colo, a former Moscow player himself, and avoid another loss which would put the Turkish side in a compromising position. 

Heach coach Erdem Can lauded his player’s fight on the court, despite many difficulties.

“They faced the difficulties and mentally were ready to fight until a certain point,” Can said.

“We were not smart enough and we were gassed a little bit at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter. As long as we are ready to fight for every single possession until the end, we will always have a chance and we will follow to have the chance as a Fenerbahçe Beko organization that always has the highest targets.”

Dream start for Zenit

All thoughts are about Game 2 for Zenit, as they aim for another upset of top-seed Barcelona on Friday.

Star guard Kevin Pangos put up a show with 19 points against his former team and was instrumental for Zenit’s win on Wednesday. However, head coach Xavi Pascual believes it will be much harder this time around.

“It will be more difficult than the first one because Barcelona will react. They will play incredibly aggressive in all situations, with high levels of concentration and motivation,” Pascual told the club’s website.

“First, we must play wisely, understand what kind of match awaits us and approach it correctly.”

Zenit will be without Arturas Gudaitis who twisted his ankle in Game 1 against the Catalan club and will miss the Friday’s game.

“It will be even more difficult for us, because after the loss of (Mateusz) Ponitka, we also lost Gudaitis – he will miss tomorrow’s game. We have lost another player in the starting five, so tomorrow it will be tough,” Pascual said.

Barcelona head coach Sarunas Jasikevicius had initially identified the side’s problem as being the fact that the players had been “breaking every rule on defense and cutting corners on offence”.

“I believe that you need to be disciplined and not give anything away. In the playoffs, in high-level basketball, offense depends on talent, so we need to make the most of the opportunities we have,” Jasikevicius said.

“We also need to limit the loss of the ball – in the first quarter we allowed five losses. Protection is about dedication and adherence to the rules. We have to follow our game plan. Obviously, we didn’t. We didn’t change the game plan during the break: there is no point in changing the plan if you don’t follow it. We must play the same way as we did in the second half of the match. We made a mistake, so in the next match we need to show character.”

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