In a game that was meaningless in the standings, CSKA Moscow sent a powerful message to its would-be rivals in the Final Four by stomping Cibona 59-101 in Zagreb, where the Croatians had been almost unbeatable all season. This, however, was a record European loss for the Croatians, 42 points, as the previous worst loss in Europe for Cibona took place on January 14, 1993 in Bologna against Virtus (109-69). As it was known last week, CSKA ends the Top 16 as Group D champ with a 5-1 record and a Final Four berth. On the other hand, Cibona dropped 2-4, and only had Unicaja (1-5) below it, as the Spaniards also lost to Efes Pilsen on Wednesday. The winners were led by J. R. Holden and his 19 points and 5 of 10 triples. Alexei Savrasenko added 18 points and Nikos Hatzivrettas 16, including 4-for-5 triples, while Sergei Panov nailed 13. For Cibona, Haris Mujezinovic was the only player in double digits with 19 points.
The game started with Cibona jumping ahead on triple by Davor Kus. Hatzivrettas replied with his own for CSKA, but Haris Mujezinovic, very active in the first minutes, managed a layup plus foul, then Slaven Rimac's layup earned Cibona a 8-3 lead. The game continued being disputed from the arc, 8-6 on Holden's first triple for CSKA, 11-6 as Mujezinovic did the same. As CSKA trailed, it looked like they would not be able to recover the gap since they kept on adding turnovers. But then, the game changed suddenly. The inside play of the guests started to improve at the same time that Cibona lost concentration on offense. Alexei Savrasenko stood out as the main pillar of CSKA's offensive plays, while Holden pushed the tempo. One of Savrasenko's layups put CSKA ahead for the first time, 12-13. From that point, CSKA started with a rain of three-pointers, which was all the guests needed to pull away, first to 13-20, and later to 16-25 as Hatzivrettas launched again from beyond the 6.25 line at the end of the first period.
As if there could be no other way, Holden started the second quarter with yet another triple for 16-28. Cibona was not able to stop the Russians at the perimeter. CSKA would keep on adding triples until they had landed 10 of 15 at halftime, a great full game for many teams. And as the guests took bigger leads, they started to make fancy plays such as Victor Khryapa's alley-oop dunk from Holden's assist. Not even the appearance of Darren McLinton solved things for Cibona. Zoran Planinic culminated a fastbreak slamming the ball for 28-40 but in a wink of an eye, the score was 28-50 after another triple by Holden. The quarter would end with a 14-30 partial score as Theodoros Papaloukas sealed the great first-half shooting display by CSKA with another triple, almost on the buzzer, for a 30-55 lead at the break.
Things got even worse for Cibona in the second half, as there was only one team on court during the last 20 minutes, CSKA. Apart from some individual spurts, the Croatian team was totally helpless in front of the Russian avalanche. Aleksander Bashminov inaugurated the scoring in the second half for 30-57. Zoran Planinic didn't have his best night from the free throw line, and that also helped CSKA increase its lead minute by minute. Hatzivrettas hit a layup for 42-67 and Sergei Panov hit from the arc for 42-70. The hosts lacked rhythm and accuracy in shooting, while the guests played their game. Niksa Prkacin took advantage of the situation to add some points to his scoring column, but couldn't avoid that his team was losing by 48-72 after 30 minutes.
The last quarter was a mere formality, in which Cibona looked like it only wanted the clock to expire. That's why CSKA, led by Savrasenko under the rims, kept on incresing its lead with no stop at all. A layup by Savrasenko earned CSKA the first 30-point lead of the game, 52-82. And those 30 points quickly became 40 as Panov hit another triple, 57-97. Tomislav Ruzic scored 6 straight points for his team, but defense didn't exist. On the other hand, CSKA struggled for every single ball even while leading by 42 points. The game ended with Zakhar Pashutin putting CSKA into triple digits, 59-101. The Russians could surely say they will arrive to the Final Four stronger than ever.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003