Zenit St. Petersburg may be facing their toughest task this season as they meet Barcelona for Game three of the EuroLeague playoffs, a series kept level after a close Game One win and an overtime Game Two loss.
CSKA Moscow have taken over their series against Fenerbahce after keeping Nando De Colo quiet, particularly in Game Two. Olimpia Milano took their impressive late comeback momentum to cruise past Bayern Munich in Game Two and will have the greater confidence on Wednesday.
Zenit will have fans in the stands for their first ever playoffs home game on Wednesday and it couldn’t have come at a better time than this as the side will be fighting to take an advantage in their tie against top-seed Barcelona on Wednesday.
Zenit were the only team to win away from home – Game One – and star guard Kevin Pangos shone, even making MVP of Game One across the EuroLeague. Speaking to the club’s media, Canadian Pangos praised Barca but insists “it will be a battle”.
“I expect the same (as Games One and Two) and even more. I think they will play aggressively, at the maximum, so we have to be ready,” Pangos said.
“We have to play the way we played and also improve some aspects. It will be a battle, no doubt about it. We did not say that Barcelona is invincible. Of course, this is a great team, they finished the regular season first for a reason, they have a lot of talent.
“They have an outstanding team, but we are also a great team. It will be a great series. In my opinion, the team that appears on the court every game in this series will win in the end. It is important to do this in the next match. I hope the fans give us a slight edge. I think there will be a special energy in the arena, and we are going to respond to it.”
Zenit coach Xavi Pascual will expect his team to “play smart and look for opportunities” to win in the last quarter.
“We are happy with what we did in Barcelona, but now it is in the past. We have matches coming up here, with our fans. Everyone should enjoy this moment. This is the most important thing because we are playing in the playoffs for the first time in history, also against the best team in Europe,” Pascual said.
“Even though important players will not participate in the match, we will try to follow our game plan. It will be important to fight throughout the match, play well defensively and offensively, play smart and look for opportunities to win in the last part of the match. This is what we are going to try to do, what we did in the two previous matches.”
Barca coach Sarunas Jasikevicius lauded his side but insists they must get out of the hole they dug themselves into in Game One.
“I think we showed good basketball in the second match. The pressure, of course, took its toll on our game. I think my guys do not understand one important thing: all this is difficult. It’s hard,” Jasikevicius said.
“We are trying to fight for the Final Four against a very good team. Of course, we are nervous, because we lost the first meeting. We didn’t fight well. We dug a hole for ourselves and now everything depends on us – we must get out of this hole.”
CSKA’S Daniel Hackett was the star for his side in their series against Fenerbahce and will be looking to do the same on Wednesday in Game Three which could see them sweep the Instanbul side.
“Our goal is to go there and get a win. So we’ve got to focus on Game 3, we gotta go there and be ourselves, play our basketball, defend the way we’ve been doing, take care of the details and fight for a win like we’ve been doing,” Hackett said.
Coach Dimitris Itoudis echoed this, explaining how many of the players were rested on Sunday in their Russian League game against Nizhny.
“We had to play the VTB League game last Sunday but our main concern was to rest some players and let others play. The young players did great job, we won the game and we competed on the highest level,” Itoudis said.
“This is a playoff series, we know the quality of Fener, we have huge respect for what they represent as individuals and a group, but we also have huge respect to what we are doing as an organization, as club, as CSKA. We are going there to give a fight.”
Bayern look to force Game Four
Bayern may have lost two games of the tie against Olimpia Milano so far but coach Andrea Trinchier feels this is the time to put in the effort and push for a way back in.
“The situation is clear – we want to win the next game, that goes without saying,” Trinchieri said. “It’s time to throw everything in and take a chance. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than any words. Whatever we talk about now is less important than what we do. It’s time to do it.”
Milan, 2-0 up in the series after a comeback Game One win and a dominant display in game Two, will be hoping to hold that momentum on Wednesday.
“We are going to Munich to play Game three of a series that is obviously very open, because so far all we have done has been to respect the home factor,” coach Ettore Messina said.
“We will have to be patient, concrete and lucid in continuing to defend well and look for open shots in the attacking half ”.