Perhaps no team felt the thrill of reaching the Top 16 this season quite like Zalgiris Kaunas. A last-second corner triple in the regular season's final game assured Zalgiris of its place in the new round as the best team in a four-way tie. In fact, Zalgiris bounced back from a slow start by rallying to take its last two games - including the team's first Euroleague road win since January 2008. That not only allowed the Lithuanian powerhouse to stay alive in the competition, but sends it into the Top 16 with no pressure and a lot to gain. One of the main reasons Zalgiris is still playing has been veteran forward Dainius Salenga, who is shining bright in his eighth Euroleague season. Salenga was the regular season Week 6 MVP and was instrumental - with 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists - in the team's make-or-break home win against Cibona in the next-to-last regular season game. Salenga knows that the Top 16 marks a new start in the competition and that Zalgiris is alive and kicking. "We have to fight for a playoff spot," Salenga said. "We have all the chances to do it and everything depends on us."
Hello, Dainius. Zalgiris made it to the Top 16 with a last-second three-pointer by Marcus Brown that solved a four-way tie in your favor. How has the regular season been for Zalgiris and how exciting was that moment?
"It has been a very difficult regular season for us. Like you said, we made it to the Top 16 at the very last moment. We believed all the time that we had the chance to advance, and made it in the end. Brown's three-pointer was a great moment. We are very happy because we reached the Top 16 in an unbelievable way. Everybody, coaches and players, were really happy and celebrated as if we had won a title."
Looking at your Top 16 opponents, what do you think about CSKA so far this season?
"CSKA has a lot of players that have been together for many years. All of them are great players that made it to the Euroleague final and won titles. We have already played against them this season, not in the Euroleague, but in other domestic competitions. Some people may think that they are not as strong as they were last season but CSKA always plays hard and won their regular season group. They are still a very strong team. They had many injuries throughout the regular season but still finished first. If they have their whole team in the Top 16, it will be very difficult to beat them."
As for Unicaja, you played in Spain not so long ago, what is your opinion about them?
"I know most of their players and saw Unicaja twice when they played against the other Lithuanian team in the Euroleague this season, Lietuvos Rytas. I watched both games and I think they have a different team than last season. They changed several players but still remain a very good team. Unicaja has a lot of players who are used to playing hard all the time. As all three opponents in this group, I don't expect Unicaja to be an easy team for us, of course."
Prokom you saw last season, but stars like David Logan, Qyntel Woods and Daniel Ewing are still there. Your thoughts on Prokom?
"Just as we did, Prokom made it to the Top 16 winning the very last game. Like you said, they have a lot of talented foreign players. We played against them in last year's regular season - and will do it in the Top 16 now. We split home wins last season. They have played really well at home, beating strong teams like Real Madrid and BC Khimki. They have played great basketball in their last couple of games, doing very well against Panathinaikos in Athens and beating Khimki at home. Being honest, all teams that made it to the Top 16 can beat anybody, especially at home. There are no weak teams in the Top 16."
Last but not least, what can we expect from Zalgiris from now on?
"I think that we have a very good Top 16 group, especially if you compare them with some others. There is a very tough group out there with Real Madrid, Montepaschi, Maccabi and Efes, plus another one with Barcelona and Panathinaikos. I think this is a very, very good group to try to win some games, especially at home. We want to play hard and see what happens. I think that our game is improving since we changed coaches. We have to fight for a playoff spot. We have all the chances to do it and everything depends on us."