Regal FC Barcelona confirmed its status as the best team of the Euroleague regular season by blowing out would-be Top 16 qualifier Zalgiris 90-68 in Group B at home on Wednesday. Barcelona had already won Group B, but also claimed the top record of the Euroleague regular season, 9-1, with the victory. Zalgiris, which tried gamely in the first half to position itself for an upset, finished 2-8 in a three-way tie for fourth place that was won by Asseco Prokom Sopot of Poland, which took the group's last Top 16 ticket. Roger Grimau scored 16 of his game-high 18 points in the second half for Barcelona. Juan Carlos Navarro added 16 points and provided leadership on the offensive end, while big men Fran Vazquez and Daniel Santiago chipped in with 10 points apiece for the winners. For Zalgiris, Dainius Salenga netted 16 points and fellow swingman Jonas Maciulius had 10, but the Barcelona defense shut down any other potential scorers. Zalgiris was as close as a point midway through the second quarter and within 44-39 at halftime, but Navarro, Grimau and Vazquez took over quickly after halftime and didn't look back on the way to another resounding victory.
Zalgiris showed they were ready to fight from the very beginning as Maciulis crashed the offensive glass to score a layup and Eurelijus Zukauskas dunked to make it 0-4. Santiago opened the scoring for the hosts only to see Mantas Kalnietis score 4 points in a 0-6 Zalgiris run to a surprising 2-10 lead. Navarro put a stop to that trend with 2 three-point plays for Barcelona, although Salenga sank a smooth triple in between. Gianluca Basile then burned his defender and drove for a layup that cut the difference to 10-13. The teams were exchanging baskets now, as Maciulis picked up the points for the guests, while Jaka Lakovic fed Basile for his trademark three-pointer at 17-19. Kalnietis made his second dunk of the quarter before Andre Barrett scored on Barcelona's last possession for a 19-21 scoreboard after 10 minutes.
Barrett set up Santiago's open dunk to open the second quarter before Grimau went coast-to-coast for Barcelona's first lead, 23-21. That didn't affect Zalgiris, which answered with consecutive triples by Arturas Milaknis and Paulius Jankunas. Lubos Barton and Barrett evened things up at 27-27, however, before David Andersen came through with 5 points to push Barcelona in front again, 32-29. The always aggressive Maciulius kept attacking the paint, as his free throws and a layup helped Zalgiris retake the lead at 32-33. But that's when Navarro got hot with back-to-back downtown bombs, and with another lay-in by Santiago, Barcelona's advantage grew to 44-37. Zalgiris executed perfectly on the last possession of the first half, as Kalnietis found Tadas Klimavicius for a dunk that beat the buzzer as the scoreboard showed 44-39 at the halftime.
Navarro opened the second half with a brilliant pass that Vazquez hammered down. Back on defense, Vazquez blocked Jankunas and then earned a trip to the line and split the free throws. Not done yet, Vazquez converted another Navarro assist to put Zalgiris in double-digit trouble, 49-39. Maciulius made a bucket for the guests only to see Grimau score 5 straight points. After a layup by Kalnietis on the other end, Navarro scored on his famous floater and Grimau finished a Barcelona fastbreak to expand the advantage to 58-43. Salenga scored after a Zalgiris timeout, but Barca's big men, Vazquez and Andersen, overpowered their opponents and Grimau's free throws established a 20-point edge, 65-45. Now, not even open shots fell for Zalgiris while Santiago and Barrett showed no mercy in widening the gap to 71-49 by the end of the third quarter.
With the game decided, the teams struggled to score in the first 2 minutes of the final quarter, until Salenga muscled his way to a three-point play. Jankunas added 2 free throws for the visitors, who had a chance for further unanswered points, but Barca's substitute Samb Mamadou came from behind to swat a Kalnietis layup-attempt. After a basket by Grimau, Klimavicius worked his way inside with a power move for Zalgiris to make it 73-56. But the hosts wouldn't give Zalgiris any space, as Barrett hit a shot, Grimau stole the ball to run away for an open dunk, and Navarro fed Mamadou for yet another Barca slam and a 79-56 difference. With the next challenge ahead in the Top 16, Barcelona had proven itself worthy of the best record in the regular season.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009