Zalgiris Kaunas reaped compliments for a strong first full campaign under Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius in the 2016-17 season and added to the core of that team in the off-season. Despite losing veteran center Robertas Javtokas to retirement, Zalgiris retooled its frontcourt and came out ready to play.
A difficult early-season schedule saw the Lithuanian champs play five of their first seven EuroLeague games on the road, but victories at FC Barcelona Lassa, AX Armani Exchange Olimpia Milan and Unicaja Malaga gave Zalgiris a winning record at the end of that stretch.
Through the first third of the season, Zalgiris was on the edge of the playoff zone with a 5-5 record. Then came a perfect December that lifted the team deep into the playoff picture. Zalgiris did not just go 5-0 in that month, but several of its victories were marquee wins against top teams, including at reigning champion Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul and versus Panathinaikos Superfoods Athens and Olympiacos Piraeus at home.
Paulius Jankunas was named EuroLeague MVP for December and at month’s end, Saras’s charges were tied for third place in the league.
Zalgiris’s fantastic first half of the season was a tough act to repeat, but the team was nearly as good in the second half. Kevin Pangos delivered a club record 15 assists in a Round 19 victory over Valencia Basket, the team set a club record with 29 assists in a Round 21 victory over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv and Axel Toupane shined with a career-best 21 points to lead Zalgiris to a Round 24 win over FC Barcelona Lassa.
Wins over CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos in the final two rounds of the regular season ensured that Zalgiris had defeated each of the top four teams in the regular season at least one and swept the two games from the Reds, who would become Zalgiris’s playoff opponent.
The club’s final 18-12 regular season record was only one win less than third-place Olympiacos. As it readies for its first EuroLeague Playoff appearance since the current playoff format was instituted in 2004, Zalgiris features a deep, well-balanced squad that is not afraid of any opponent.