The instinct to stay alive in the Top 16 made for some rivetting basketball in Moscow on Wednesday. When it was done, host CSKA Moscow had outlasted a challenge by defeating Ulker of Turkey 86-80. It was CSKA's first victory in Group H, evening its record at 1-1, while Ulker dropped to 0-2 despite a valiant effort. The visitors held an eight-point lead late in the third quarter, but CSKA rallied to tie. It was still tied, 76-76, with under 4 minutes left, when Alexandre Petrenko drained the three-pointer that put CSKA ahead for good. Gordan Giricek led the winners with 24 points, Mirsad Turkcan helped with 17 and Curtis McCants with 14. For the losers, Harun Erdenay hit 16, but missed some key free throws down the stretch. Bud Eley and Haluk Yildirim added 15 points each for Ulker, Miljan Goljovic 12 and Quadre Lollis 11.
The respective leaders of their squads, not to mention long-time national teammates for Turkey, Turkcan and Erdenay were the protagonists of the first quarter, in which neither team could escape the other. With each taking his team's early scoring responsibility, Turkcan worked inside, Erdenay out. Gordan Giricek was already warming up the perimeter for CSKA, but the good news for the visitors was that Bud Eley was doing the same inside. Halfway through the quarter, Ulker led 11-15, but neither team would manage to go ahead by more than two baskets, it was that tight. Appropriately enough, by the time both Erdenay and Turkcan finished things off with 9 points each on the quarter, there was a 23-23 tie on the board after 10 minutes.
When Giricek exploded for a pair of early three-pointers in the second quarter, CSKA looked like it was going to escape. But its 31-25 lead was quickly equalized as Goljovic stepped up and hit his own three-pointer for Ulker, while Lollis got a bucket inside and Yildirim added his own. Ulker might have pulled away if not for several turnovers in the same span. On the other side, the bench duo of Dimitri Domani and Alexandre Petrenko tried to push CSKA ahead, but again Goljovic evened the score, 36-36, with a shot from downtown. And there it stayed, tied that is. Ruben Wolkowyski joined in the scoring for CSKA, which was fortunate, because Turkcan did not get any points in the period, and Giricek no additional ones after his early breakout. For Ulker, Tutku Acik seemed to be decided to ruin CSKA's game, and hit an unbelievable three from 8 meters. For CSKA, it was Curtis McCants' turn, who scored his team's last 6 points in the quarter, keeping his teammates in the game. But in the last plays of the period, both Asim Pars and Acik contributed to tie the score at 42 after the first 20 minutes.
The third quarter followed with the trend seen in the first half, and in fact, it would be the pace of the game until the very last minutes. Even though Turkcan was not very active on the offensive end, the struggle in the defensive end with Lollis was a real clash of titans, while for the Russians, Wolkowsky was the pace-setter early in the quarter. The game entered a phase of quick fastbreaks for both sides, with Erdenay hitting for a 46-47 Ulker lead and Domani replying at once for 48-47. Acik stood out again for a three, and Yildrim gave an assist to Lollis in the following play to build a 48-52 advantage for the visitors. It looked like Ulker had found the way, and CSKA coach Valery Tikhonenko called a time out, which didn't seem to work too well, despite Giricek's effort to catch up with the Turks by himself. Again the teams traded baskets, three-pointers in the case of Zakhar Pachoutine and Yildrim. From 58-61 though, Ulker forged a 0-5 run that gave them the biggest lead in the game, 8 points for 58-66 after a dunk by Eley off a free throw miss by Lollis. But it was a short-lived mirage, as McCants and Giricek replied quickly for 62-66 at the end of the third.
The last period started with a 6-0 run for the hosts, forged by Giricek himself to tie the score at 69, and after that, a three by Pachoutine put the Russians ahead again, 72-69. It was in this period when Turkcan woke up in the offensive end, and hit some lethal baskets and free throws to keep his team ahead, while for Ulker, its main weapon, Erdenay, vanished and Goljevic had to take responsibility with shooting. The 76-76 was the last time when both teams were tied, and from that point, CSKA jumped ahead for good with a three by Petrenko. Turkcan hit a two for 84-79 that sealed the game. Erdenay missed one final free throw that condemned Ulker to be the only winless team in Group H, and retain few options to make it into the Final Four.
Wednesday, March 6, 2002