VALENCIA (Eurocup/EuroBasket) - Simas Jasaitis is no stranger to big games. He has played in many with Lithuania’s national team over the years, including appearances at the last Beijing and London Olympics, and the 2006 and 2010 FIBA World Championships.
One reason why the 2.01m forward, who turns 30 next week, is a lynchpin in the national team and is certain to be at this summer’s EuroBasket in Slovenia, a qualifying tournament for the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, is that he isn’t afraid to take the big shots.
Jasaitis’ mental fortitude was there for all to see on Wednesday evening in Spain when he nailed two three-pointers in the last minute to give Russians Lokomotiv Kuban a 97-87 first-leg triumph in their Eurocup Semi-Final tie with Valencia Basket.
He’d already given the team a dream start by drilling three of four shots from the arc in the first quarter, but the most important of his seven three-balls came at the end, after Lokomotiv lost their concentration and allowed Valencia to reduce a 19-point deficit to 91-87 with less than a minute to go.
Despite being closely guarded, Jasaitis buried his last two three-pointers to stretch the margin of victory to 10.
“I like these three-point shots,” he said to FIBA.com.
“It was a good game for us.
“We won but now, we have to forget everything and get ready for next week.”
Jasaitis, who only missed three shots from long range, finished with 23 points.
He also had eight rebounds and four steals.
The Lokomotiv coach, Evgeny Pashutin, who was still pumping his fists in joy outside his locker room after the game, and Jasaitis´ Lithuania and club teammate Mantas Kalnietis, talked to FIBA.com about the marksman.
“Simas is a good guy, a real fighter,” Pashutin said.
“He’s really very experienced, plays starting five national team of Lithuania and plus, he’s played in many Olympic and World Championship games.
“So he knows how to play that kind of game under pressure. We like him. He’s a big, big part of our team.”
Kalnietis, who had 17 points himself, said: “Those (Jasaitis three-balls) were very important shots.
“They made the difference bigger. He made a lot of three-pointers.
“Now we’re going back with a 10-point difference and not four.”
Jasaitis isn’t surprised that Lokomotiv have made it this far in the Eurocup.
“They made this team to win the Eurocup, and the other leagues that we play in,” he said.
“If we win the Eurocup, it would put us in the Euroleague next year.
“Now, we want to do this and we’re going step by step.”
The second leg will be played in Krasnodar, Russia, on Tuesday.
Bilbao in command
Uxue Bilbao Basket also have one foot in the Eurocup Final because they won the first leg of their tie with Budivelnik Kiev, 93-83, in Ukraine.
"For us it was very important win,” Bilbao coach Fotis Katsikaris said.
“This game was the first of our duel, and it was an away game - so it was especially important.
“We were very well prepared and had studied the style of Budivelnik’s defense.
“Most importantly, in my opinion, is that we were able to stick to our game plan. We played our way, we played like a team that has its own philosophy. Our players ran well today.”
For Bilbao, Lamont Hamilton poured in 26 points and Greece international Kostas Vasiliadis added 20.
The latter hit four of seven shots from long range.
Katsikaris says his players need to forget the first game, even though they’ll be huge favorites to progress with the second leg being at home.
“Our fans are there and I am confident that they will help us a lot, however, we have to stay focused,” he said.
“We must be well prepared.”
Budivelnik could not have asked for much more on offense from Malcolm Delaney, who finished with 38 points.
He connected on six of nine shots from long range and was also 14 of 16 at the free-throw line.
All that mattered for Delaney was the final result.
"Now we have a similar situation like it was the last time after the first game with Spartak (St Petersburg),” he said.
Budivelnik lost the first leg of that Quarter-Final, 83-72, but won the second at home, 73-56.
“But now it will be even harder,” Delaney said, “because we will need to overcome the 10-point (Bilbao) advantage on the road.
“However, we´re not out of it. We have to figure things out, be stronger and play our best basketball in the second game."
The second leg of the tie will be played in Bilbao, Spain, on Wednesday night.