In the last match of the calendar year of the VTB United League regular championship, Zenit hosted UNICS. This was the third meeting of the teams in the current season, and, as in the two previous ones, the St. Petersburg team was stronger, winning with a score of 97:81. And the beneficiary of such an outcome, besides, of course, Zenit, was the Saratov Avtodor, which sensationally finished the year in first place in the standings.
A few days before the face-to-face meeting, both Zenit and UNICS were involved in Euroleague matches and learned from them a completely different experience. Zenit barely beat the sinking but stubbornly floundering Maccabi (the Israeli team suffered its seventh defeat in a row), while UNICS lost to Barcelona on a visit. The defeat by the grandee itself, and even on its site, can hardly be called something unexpected. But this is if we forget that the Kazan team were leading by 20 points during the meeting and only conceded a victory in overtime. The most offensive outcome for UNICS, which clearly had to affect the psychological state of the players. Not to mention the fact that the battle with Barcelona did little to improve the physical condition of the players of the Kazan team. So in the confrontation between Zenit and UNICS, the chances of the St. Petersburg team looked more preferable. Moreover, this season Zenit have already beaten Kazan twice – first in the VTB United League Super Cup final, and then in the Euroleague.
Fatigue, against the background of which UNICS arrived in St. Petersburg, began to manifest itself almost immediately, albeit not clearly. How else to explain the fact that Zenit players repeatedly found themselves on the perimeter alone, from where Sergey Karasev and Jordan Lloyd beat almost without a miss. For a long time, the guests held out at the expense of a slightly more successful game under the shields. But this was enough only in order not to let the opponent go too far. And Zenit head coach Xavi Pascual, seeing that the opponent felt uncomfortable, only increased the pressure, which by the long break, when the Kazan team started losing the ball in harmless situations, brought Zenit a nine-point lead.
True, after the resumption of the meeting, UNICS started to play as, in fact, it should, if it was in optimal condition. Lorenzo Brown, Jarrell Brantly, Alex Poytress, Andrey Vorontsevich jointly organized a spurt, which seemed capable of turning the tide of the meeting. UNICS has stepped forward. And already Pascual had to take time out to bring his team to life. It turned out quite successfully. And it probably could not have turned out on the day when Billy Baron played so powerfully. The American generally begins to accustom himself to the fact that he consistently turns out to be a key figure in the team. For example, it was he who had to save Zenit in the confrontation with Avtodor a week ago. True, he did not convert any of the three long-distance attempts at the end of the match. But Baron became the author of the winning three-pointer in the game against Maccabi. Well, he caused UNICS so much trouble that it would have been enough for two matches. And, which was especially annoying for the guests, the American did not just hit, but as if he was deliberately choosing the moments so as to radically stifle any attempt by UNICS to rise. He finished the match with 27 points. This is both the best indicator of the meeting and Baron’s personal record in the VTB United League.
In fact, all the questions in the game were removed at the beginning of the final ten minutes, when Alex Poytress and Mindaugas Kuzminskas brought the hosts’ lead to 16 points. The UNICS players, already very tired, after that rather pretended to resist than actually tried to save the match. As a result, Zenit won with a score of 97:81. True, this victory had no effect on his standings. Petersburgers are still fourth and lag behind CSKA, which is third in terms of additional indicators. UNICS was second. But the first to leave for the New Year’s break thanks to the defeat of the Kazan team, who would have thought at the beginning of the season, is Avtodor.
VTB United League Regular Championship
CSKA— “Yenisei” 97:88. Zenit — UNICS 97:81.
W P% wins
1. Avtodor 9 8 1 88.9
2. UNIX 10 8 2 80.0
3. CSKA 9 7 2 77.8
4. Zenit 9 7 2 77.8
5. “Nizhny Novgorod” 9 5 4 55.6
6. Lokomotiv-Kuban 9 5 4 55.6
7. Parma 9 5 4 55.6
8. Kalev 9 3 6 33.3
9. “Yenisei” 10 3 7 30.0
10. “Astana” 8 2 6 25.0
11. “Tsmoki-Minsk” 9 1 8 11.1
12. “Zielona Gora” 10 1 9 10.0