Cibona VIP put one big foot in the Top 16 on Wednesday when it held onto full control of second place in Group A by stomping Partizan 92-69 in front of a sellout crowd at home in Zagreb. Cibona is all but mathematically assured of going to the next round as its record reached 7-4, a full 3 victories better than any team that could hurt it with just 3 games remaining. Partizan fell to 5-6 and a fourth-place tie with AEK, and must win now to keep its head above water. Slaven Rimac led Cibona with 18 points, nailing 7 of 10 attempted field goals. Josip Vrankovic added 15, Sconnie Penn scored 14, including 10 of 11 free throws, Andrija Zizic 12 and Jurica Golemac 11. Golemac added 7 rebounds and 6 assists in just 19 minutes, as Cibona won going away after the half. Partizan was led by Nenad Krstic, with 17 points and 9 rebounds. Fred House added 16 while Djuro Ostojic had 14 for the guests.
Surprise starter Goran Cakic missed a pair of open three-pointers in the opening minutes for Partizan, and Cibona wasted little time in taking advantage. A Golemac basket ignited a 7-0 opening run while Cibona's aggressive defense made life tough on Partizan. Scoonie Penn and Josip Vrankovic spurred Cibona's offense. A basket by Poljak gave the hosts a 11-4 lead, and Partizan was only able to score from the charity stripe, as Cibona wouldn't give up any easy baskets. A three-pointer by Slaven Rimac gave Cibona a 14-5 lead, but Vule Advalovic answered on the other end, igniting a 1-6 run in which Gerald Brown added a three-point play to make it a four-point game at 15-11. Vrankovic stepped up for Cibona, scoring 4 points and feeding Poljak for an easy two-handed slam, while 2 free throws by Penn gave the hosts a 27-16 lead at the end of the first quarter. Partizan's offensive numbers explained their troubles: 2 of 8 two-pointers, 1 of 5 threes and 5 turnovers after 10 minutes.
Cibona got an early basket from Rimac but othewise went cold from the field, while a rain of turnovers followed in both ends of the court. Partizan got the best of this chaos, and the cut Cibona's lead to 29-21 with a put-back hook by Krstic and a basket by Cakic. Cibona switched to zone defense, and on the other end a basket by Barisa Krasic and a jump hook by Andrija Zizic gave the hosts a safe lead, 33-21, after 15 minutes. House soon got hot for Partizan, following a three-pointer with a one-handed slam, and then Krstic dunked twice in the final minutes of the half. Still, the guests only managed to exchange baskets with Cibona, whose frontcourt back-ups, Zizic and Krasic, combined for 7 points, before three-pointer by Marijan Mance extended the Cibona lead to 44-32. Just when it looked to be in real danger, dunks by Krstic and House in the closing minute brought Partizan to within 44-36 at halftime.
Cibona took over for good early in the third quarter, going on an 8-2 run highlighted by Penn's three-point play, which meant a 14-point lead at 52-38. The hosts extended the lead to 57-40 on a three-pointer by Vrankovic and Penn free throws. Partizan switched to a zone defense, but continued to struggle on the offensive end, scoring only 9 points in the quarter. Zizic ignited a final 9-0 Cibona run, and Vrankovic drilled another triple, while both Krstic and Ostojic picked up their fourth fouls for Partizan. Free throws by Golemac made it a 21-point game, 66-45, entering the fourth quarter.
Partizan needed a quick comeback, but back-to-back three-pointers by Mance and Rimac stopped that idea and extended Cibona's lead to 78-54 with less than 7 minutes to go. The hosts' defense lost track as the outcome was clear, but a dunk by Brown and a three-point play by Krstic could only get Partizan within 20, 82-62. That was still 8 points away from what it needed to avoid losing a potential tiebreaker with Cibona, but Partizan failed cut the deficit further due to Rimac's offensive exploits. With the outcome no longer in question, the local fans had the chance to see the debut of two of their big prospects, Damir Omerhodzic and Aleksandar Ugrinovski, a 15-year old. Omerhodzic had the chance to score a reverse layup, while a wild dunk by Mance told the Cibona fans that the show was indeed going on!
Wednesday, January 28, 2004