Even this early in the season, it is fair to say that UNICS Kazan’s home meeting with Bitci Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz on Wednesday night was a must-win occasion for the Russian team. UNICS had struggled in the opening weeks after returning to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague following a four-year absence from the competition, winning just one of its first five games, and knew that it would slip three wins off the playoff pace with another defeat against Baskonia.
To go in search of the victory it badly needed, one might have expected UNICS to lean on the talents of Isaiah Canaan, Mario Hezonja or Lorenzo Brown, who had led the team in scoring with 15.0, 12.8 and 12.2 points per game respectively. Or perhaps to look for inside domination through Tonye Jekiri, who had the extra motivation of playing against his former team and led UNICS in rebounding with 6.0 boards per game.
In fact, the inspiration came from a familiar but unexpected source, as the team’s most experienced player, Andrey Vorentsevich, rolled back the years with a masterful all-around performance.
The 34-year-old forward, a three-time former champion with CSKA Moscow, delivered 14 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting, along with 7 rebounds including 4 off the offensive glass, 3 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocked shots for a team-high PIR of 21.
This all-around burst of action was particularly notable because Vorontsevich had been very quiet in the first few games of the season, averaging just 3.2 points, 3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and a PIR of 3.4. His performance was the best he had delivered in continental competition since March 2018, when he registered a PIR of 22 in CSKA’s 79-81 victory over Fenerbahce Istanbul, and the joint eighth best of his EuroLeague career.
And it has been a long career. With 280 EuroLeague appearances – 13th on the all-time list, rapidly closing in on Ante Tomic (283) and Ioannis Bourousis (284) – Vorentsevich has more experience in the competition than the rest of the UNICS roster on Tuesday put together. He is the team’s only player with more than 100 EuroLeague appearances: Viacheslav Zaytchev is next with 96, and he did not play on Wednesday, followed by Lorenzo Brown with 70 games.
After the game, Vorontsevich spoke like the veteran he is when he downplayed his own performance and instead focused on UNICS’s collective effort, saying: “For sure individual points are very important but everything starts with our hard defense. For me it’s more important that we shared the ball very well, we got a lot of rebounds. Baskonia is the first team in EuroLeague on offensive rebounds and we prepared for that. This is the teamwork that we build every day. I hope for the next games it will be the same.”
With Vorontsevich leading by example, UNICS got its season truly up and running on Wednesday night.