The Lokomotiv-Kuban – Zenit rivalry is picking up steam. Last season, the two teams met four times. Loko and Zenit traded road wins in the VTB League, while Krasnodar knocked St. Petersburg out of the EuroCup with two wins in the quarterfinals. In terms of head-to-head match-ups in the League, Kuban holds a 4-2 edge.
Over the past two weeks, the same thing kept happening in the battle for 3rd place. Zenit would leapfrog Lokomotiv with a win on Saturday, before the Railwaymen took care of business on Sunday and inched ahead thanks to a tiebreaker. Now the two clubs will finally have a chance to settle things directly on the court.
There’s also more at stake. Because of Kazan’s loss to Moscow, 2nd place is up for grabs. The victor in Saturday’s showdown will have a leg up on postseason seeding and also become 1st-place CSKA’s #1 threat in the race for the regular-season title.Lokomotiv-Kuban and Zenit present two very different approaches to the game: the icy defense of Krasnodar and fiery offense of St. Petersburg.
Under Sasa Obradovic’s intimidating gaze, Krasnodar is focused on eliminating any human threat within an eight-meter radius of the basket. Lokomotiv allows the fewest points per game in the League (66.1) and it’s not close, highlighted by last week’s masterpiece vs. Astana. Starting midway through the 2nd quarter, Loko gave up only 22 points over the final 25 minutes, including a five-point lockdown in the 4th quarter. Astana finished with 50 points, the smallest output in the League this season.
Last week, high-flying Zenit went on the road to Saratov, taking on another team that believes in pushing the tempo and scoring points in a hurry. St. Petersburg defended its title as the League’s most explosive offense, scoring 107 points en route to an easy win. Prepare for a battle of the elements on Saturday in the Basket Hall as the top defense and offense square off. Even for fans without a rooting interest, seeing which style of play carries the day will be wildly entertaining.
Both teams played in the EuroCup earlier this week. Zenit took the court on Wednesday vs. Villeurbaunne. St. Petersburg needed a win and led much of the game, but saw victory slip away in the final minutes and now needs to scramble to ensure a spot in the next round.
Though Lokomotiv had already clinched a spot in the Top 16 entering Thursday’s game vs. Lietuvos Rytas, the Railwaymen took care of business with a 77-68 win. Despite less time to prepare for Saturday’s showdown, there’s no travel involved and Kuban will also have some momentum from Thursday’s impressive outing.
Chris Babb’s brief absence due to injury helped facilitate a renaissance for Ryan Broekhoff. In addition to his defense, the winsome Australian is once again terrorizing opposing teams from beyond the arc, knocking down five of six 3-pointers in a recent win vs. Alba.
Zenit also has a threat from downtown to rival Broekhoff, and then some. Star forward Sergey Karasev has scored at least 20 points in every game since December 1. He put up 27 against Villeurbanne, a new season-high. Karasev is playing with a lot of confidence and will try to help his team secure a huge road win on Saturday.