CSKA head coach Ettore Messina reviewed the Euroleague Top 16, noting the team’s improvement, the importance of Smodis’ return from the injuries, and shared his thoughts on the quarterfinal series...
Ettore Messina: that was the best Top 16 in four years
CSKA head coach Ettore Messina reviewed the Euroleague Top 16, noting the team’s improvement, the importance of Smodis’ return from the injuries, and shared his thoughts on the quarterfinal series.

- We won 5 games out of 6 and I think that was probably the best Top 16 in my four years here, for the level of the opponents, for the margin we had in all five wins, for the fact that the team reacted very well after the only loss we had in Siena against a very strong opponent. We had a Final Four team in our group so it’s was very important to finish first. I think that was not an accident that we improved after recovering our captain Matjaz Smodis, but everyone made his step forward in terms of focusing on details both on defense and offense and performing under pressure. So we are happy to get the first place in our group.

- What is more satisfying to you – the results in the Top 16 or the team’s performance?

- The team’s performance has become solid, and this is very important. But the most important thing, as I said before, was the reaction of the team to losing confidence after our only loss in Siena. We were in trouble, we knew it, and we responded with three good performances in a row. The win over Siena at home was pivotal for us to get to this stage for sure.

- Before the start of the Top 16 you mentioned that the team had no nucleus at the time. Have the things changed?

- For sure. Our veterans have stepped up and that allowed our newcomers to play more relaxed. So they have raised the level of their basketball. It looks like everyone has found his role in the team, which is one of the most important things in creating the team’s chemistry.

- Of course, the team improved during the Top 16. Can you specify the aspects of improvement, mental and technical?

- I would say we improved in all the aspects. I think we show quite a good continuity. For example, we kept low the number of turnovers, we managed to have good shot selection even on a bad shooting night like we had in Siena, we found better balance offensively between inside game and outside game.

- Usually you try not to single out the players, but you already mentioned Smodis and you also mentioned his performance after previous games…

- I do not want to overload him with responsibility. For sure he is one of our leaders. With him and without him we have two different teams.

- Could you also say a couple of words about Victor Khryapa? You mentioned him as a team’s most valuable player after the first three months of a season, but now he is like on a downfall…

- Honestly, I don’t see him on a downfall. He played a very good game against Fenerbahce, he played good at home against Cibona and he played with 11 stitches on his eyebrow at home against Siena.

- Partizan is the only team which has a positive record against CSKA this season. Are you concerned about it?

- Of course, it I’m concerned. First of all, they are a good team. And when I say ‘team’ that means that they are a Team. Everyone knows his role, everyone knows about the priorities on offense and defense. Everyone follows strictly the instructions of coach Vujosevic. As for chemistry, they are one of the best teams in Euroleague this season. And their results tell a lot: they have beaten us, Real Madrid, Unicaja Malaga twice, Panathinaikos at home. It’s not by accident that they qualified for the playoffs. They are a strong team, they will compete, and they don’t have extra pressure of expectations on them. So it will be a very difficult match-up for us.

- What is the most difficult part about facing Partizan?

- They are a very good defensive team. They hold opponents to a very low shooting percentage. Second, they are the best offensive rebounding team in Euroleague. That gives them a lot of extra possessions. It is difficult to score against them, but at the same time it’s not easy to stop them. So, as a result, usually, the games are very close and it takes a lot of self-control to play in the crucial moments of the games.

- Looking back at the games CSKA played against Partizan this season, what could be a source of optimism for you heading into the quarterfinal series?

- We had a hard time defending them, but they also had a hard time defending us. If we keep doing the good things we did against them and correct the mistakes we made in terms of individual match-ups, ball movement and boxing out, I think we have a chance to beat them and to go to the Final Four. I want my players to understand that this is an open series, like every series. Actually, I know that the players understand, but it’s very important for the environment here to have the same understanding.

- What can you say about playing in front of 20 000 fans in Belgrade?

- It’s something new for us, although many of our players remember what it’s like after the Final Four in Athens. I also had a chance to play many years against Virtus Rome with 18 000 people in stands supporting them. Believe me, it’s not easy.


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