There was a lot of anticipation at Sibur Arena before the game between Zenit St Petersburg and Zalgiris Kaunas. A lot of Zalgiris fans were present in the stands to watch their team, taking advantage of the good connections between Kaunas and St Petersburg, and the fact that many Lithuanians live in Russia's second-largest city.
Thousands of Zenit fans also wanted to see the coaching battle between Xavi Pascual and Sarunas Jasikevicius. Not long ago, in the 2012-13 season, Jasikevicius played for Coach Pascual at FC Barcelona. Since then, Saras has become of the best coaches in European basketball and thus a strategic tactical clash could be expected.
Indeed, it was a back-and-forth battle that needed overtime to determine a winner. Zenit managed to be mentally strong and returned to the game not once, not twice, but three times, and that never-give-up mentality paid off down the stretch.
It was Pascual's first EuroLeague win with Zenit and his charges were well aware.
"We had some losses with the new coach and we wanted to give him this victory," said Andrew Albicy, whose free throws with 2.8 seconds left proved to be the game-winners. "I think we showed some character. We didn't put our head down when they took the lead in overtime. We kept fighting and we won this game. It was all about energy, defense."
If Zenit manages to keep this resilience, fighting in tough moments of the games, it will surely add some more wins before the end of this phase. As Coach Pascual said: "I think this game will help us in the future."
As for Zalgiris, it lost a chance to take another step forward in its fight to reach the playoffs, but Jasikevicius and his players hold their destiny in their own hands. Zalgiris, however, faces a tough schedule, with three road games in Barcelona, Valencia and Tel Aviv before the end of the month.