Thursday night’s victory for Zenit St. Petersburg on the road at Anadolu Efes Istanbul was a reminder to all that this is a brand-new season and everyone is starting from scratch. For some, like Efes, which was the runaway league leader when the 2019-20 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a fresh start may not have been what they wanted. However, for Zenit, which was in the league cellar, it proved to be just what the doctor ordered.
Coach Xavi Pascual had precious little time on the Zenit bench last season as a mid-year replacement. The preseason gave him a chance to start anew with some hungry players. Among them were Kevin Pangos, who missed all of the previous EuroLeague campaign with a foot injury, and Arturas Gudaitis, who had not fully returned to form after a knee injury the season before.
Both of them were at their best on Thursday. Pangos actually got off to a slow start with 0 points and 3 turnovers in the first 7 minutes before he was removed. He led his team the rest of the way en route to a career-high 23 points plus 7 assists. Pangos scored 11 in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead bucket and 4 free throws in the final 23 seconds to secure the win.
Gudaitis was a constant force in the paint to anchor the defense. He totaled 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks in 20 minutes off the bench. The big man shot 2 for 7 and committed 4 fouls, which kept him from putting up much bigger numbers, but his activity in the paint is something that opposing coaches will surely have taken note of.
Those two were not the only newcomers to the team to come up big. K.C. Rivers scored 14 and big man Alex Poythress threw down a pair of big dunks in the fourth quarter. Together it all spells a new and hungry Zenit squad that has already left a mark on a title contender.
“I’m excited for this season,” Pangos said after the game. “I think we can really do something special and this is a great start to that.”
It would be tough to argue that point.