Game Of The Week: Top-Four Showdown

Zenit St. Petersburg hosts Khimki Moscow Region in the Game of the Week.

Zenit, 2014-15 VTB United League quarterfinalists
Khimki, 2014-15 VTB United League finalists, 2014-15 Eurocup champions

SIBUR Arena (capacity 7,044), St. Petersburg, Russia

7:00 PM (7:00 PM MSK), February 18, 2016

Match TV (Russia), Match! Nash sport (Russia), United League TV

Face To Face
Zenit debuted in the 2014-15 season, but has already managed to play Khimki six times, including four meetings in the Eurocup. Last season, St. Petersburg and Khimki traded home wins during the Eurocup group stage, before Khimki eliminated Zenit in the Round of 16, going on to win the competition. The two regular-season meetings in the VTB United League were also extremely competitive as the home team came out on top twice (81-76 in Moscow Region and 65-63 in St. Petersburg).
This is the first meeting between the two teams this season.

Looking Back

Zenit (11-3) and Khimki (15-4) are currently ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively, in the standings. Despite getting blown out by CSKA and UNICS, St. Petersburg has yet to lose to anyone outside of the top-five. A win over Khimki is the next step for Vasily Karasev's club--proof that the team can hold its own against elite competition.

Khimi also has something to prove. Rimas Kurtinaitis's men recently lost three straight to Olympiacos and Real Madrid in the Euroleague and rivals CSKA in the VTB United League. The Yellow-Blues snapped the skid with a win over Astana, scoring 128 points in the process. Now Khimki faces a test against tougher competition on the road. The battle between top-four teams promises to be intense.

Will Zenit show any rust?

While Khimki has been flying all over the continent in recent weeks, this will be Zenit's first league game in February. Vasily Karasev's team has played three times this month, defeating Venezia to clinch a spot in the Eurocup playoffs and knocking off Sakhalin in the Russian Cup quarterfinals. The February 10 game against Ludwigsburg was more of an exhibition than anything else. Since then, it's been all practice for Zenit. Karasev noted earlier that his men really needed a break, but the extended pause could have a negative impact on the team's rhythm on Thursday.

Ryan Toolson (Zenit) vs. Egor Vyaltsev (Khimki).

Toolson has quickly established himself as a leader at Zenit in his debut season. He's especially dangerous from the 3-point line, but on Thursday he faces a formidable opponent...

Egor Vyaltsev has the hottest hand in the VTB United League. Against Astana on Monday, Vyaltsev set the league record for most 3-pointers in a game, knocking down 12! He's also the league leader in 3-point field-goal percentage (57.1%). St. Petersburg has to hope that Vyaltsev cools off by tip-off at SIBUR Arena.

Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev:
- I don't think there's anything we can do to surprise Khimki. It's no secret that we are playing a very talented team. Even if you come up with something special, don't expect that an opponent of their caliber won't be prepared. The most important thing is for the guys to be loose and confident entering the game. If we play grown-up basketball against Khimki, we'll take a huge step forward.
Our players need to remember that Khimki is always good at being prepared for any opponent. They definitely shouldn't expect any lack of focus from Khimki. We see every time that big-time teams are extremely motivated to play Zenit.

Khimki head coach Rimas Kurtinaitis:
- Zenit played well prior to the New Year and held one of the top spots in the league, though they hadn't played anyone in the top-five except for CSKA. They look good this season, especially in the Eurocup. Right now Landry and Valiev are injured, but the team has also added Kaspars Berzins, who was pretty decent at Nizhny Novgorod. Zenit is an ambitious club. They're always competitive and it's tough for any opponent to play in St. Petersburg, which is why we don't expect an easy game. We'll have to work for a win. We need to regain our confidence, since we haven't played as well as we could have in recent games. Everything's fine on the team. The atmosphere is good and practices are at the right energy level.

- Even though the game will be in St. Petersburg and the fans will provide enthusiastic support, Khimki has the edge in this showdown, - noted former Russian national team star and current VTB United League deputy general director, Ilona Korstin. - Kurtinaitis's men have been inconsistent, but the most recent game against Astana showed Khimki's potential. The team is very motivated and itching to compete. Plus, two of Zenit's big men, Kyle Landry and Evgeny Valiev, are injured, which is why Moscow Region will also have an advantage under the basket. Zenit's goal is to push the tempo. If the guards get hot at home, St. Petersburg could give Khimki a fight. In any case, we should expect a high-scoring, fascinating game!