Ladies and gentlemen, Krka Novo Mesto of Slovenia, a preseason qualifier very much unknown to many Euroleague fans, is turning Group C on its head here at the end of the regular season. With an audience of NBA scouts and some very happy citizens of Novo Mesto, Krka beat up on visiting CSKA Moscow on Wednesday for a 107-93 victory that puts the Slovenian upstarts closer than ever to a spot in the Top 16. Some would say Krka deserves such an honor already, simply for having beaten the top three teams in the group - Panathinaikos, Real Madrid and CSKA - plus Italian League leader Skipper Bologna, for good measure. The formula on Wednesday was familiar: Jaka Lakovic sniping from outside for 25 points and Mate Skelin dominating the middle for a double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds, compared to 17 and 7, respectively, for leading MVP candidate Mirsad Turkcan of CSKA. The third man in for Krka this time was Boris Gnjidic with 24 points, all needed to offset 30 by Curtis McCants of CSKA. Krka, which led by as much as 30 points in the third quarter, improves to 5-6 while dragging CSKA's record down to 6-5, still good for third place, though a much less safer position than 40 minutes earlier.
The game started out very balanced, with three ties until 9-9, when a three-pointer by Aleksandre Peterenko put CSKA up 9-12. When the lead hit 11-14 lead after four minutes, that caused Neven Spahija to take Krka's first timeout, but as it turned out the home team had already put in the first basket of what would become an 8-0 run. Bennett Davison and Lakovic came out of the timeout showing great teamwork as Krka claimed the lead at 17-14. On the other side, Turkcan was already making his presence felt on both ends of the floor, but so was Skelin. A third foul on Grum in just seven minutes saw Krka fans get a look at their newest player, guard James Brewer. CSKA was able to catch up and tie 20-20 with two minutes left in the first quarter, but with Lakovic and Davison moving the ball well, Brewer and Skelin scored during a 9-3 Krka charge to finish off the quarter with a 29-23 lead.
Lakovic opened the second quarter with a three-pointer to make it 32-23 and once again the scoring race was on. Krka just kept shooting from long distance and CSKA seemed at times to be defensless. McCants started answering from long-distance for CSKA, but between his two three-point bombs in the middle of the quarter, the Lakovic landed two more of his own as Krka's lead hit twin figures at 40-30. In the 16th minute, still down 10 at 45-35, CSKA coach Valeri Tikhonenko called timeout, after which Marko Samanic and McCants traded threes. But while the little guys were bombing, Skelin kept doing his job under the basket, banging away for points and rebounds to maintian the lead at 52-42. In the last two minutes of the half, the pace slowed until Grum reappeared with less than 10 seconds remaining to let go his own shot from beyond the arc. It, too, splashed through the net. Krka had it's biggest lead yet at 57-44 and CSKA had a long way back.
That road back got a lot longer soon after the half as five points by Boris Gnjidic pushed the lead quickly to 20 points, at 64-44. Gndijic was on fire as he buried another three to complete a 10-1 run by Krka to a 67-45 lead and a CSKA timeout. There was no break, however, in Krka scorching the nets. After two Davison free throws, Lakovic threw down another three-pointer and then the rest of the team joined in. CSKA did not manage a field goal until halfway through the quarter, by which time Krka was already ahead by an astounding 30 points, 83-53! In the last two minutes, Krka's paced seemed to drop, but that was a mirage. Lakovic still hit his fourth and fifth three-pointers of the night to get in before the third-quarter buzzer sounded with something akin to a final score, 90-65, on the board.
To their credit, the CSKA players didn't feel that way. Still down 93-67 with 9 minutes remaining, they went on a 7-13 run led by Zakhar Pachoutine's 10 points to get within 100-83, but by then the question was time, not willingness. It was under two minutes left before the score looked more respectable, at 102-89, but no matter how close it looked, Krka had cut the knees from under one of the giants of Europe. Once again.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002