| Lietuvos Rytas got within one win of reaching the 2011-12 Turkish Airlines Euroleague by knocking off Cibona 71-88 in the first Qualifying Round semifinal in Vilnius, Lithuania on Saturday. L. Rytas will fight for a Euroleague spot in the Qualifying Rounds final tomorrow. Meanwhile, Cibona will make its Eurocup debut next season and its streak of 20 straight Euroleague seasons came to an end. Tyrese Rice led the winners with 19 points. Ronnie Seibutis and Mindaugas Katelynas each added 13 for L. Rytas. Demonte Harper led Cibona with 14 points. Goran Suton added 13 while Damjan Rudez had 11 for the Croatian powerhouse. Katelynas shined late in the first quarter to give L. Rytas a 17-24 edge after 10 minutes. An effective zone defense allowed Cibona to dominate the game tempo in the second quarter, forcing L. Rytas to 13 first-half turnovers. A 12-1 run made Cibona get the lead early in the second quarter but a three-pointer by Seibutis tied it, 41-41, at halftime. Seibutis and an unstoppable Rice took over after the break to make L. Rytas get a 58-69 margin after three quarters. Steponas Babrauskas took over early in the fourth quarter, as L. Rytas boosted its margin to 58-76 with 8 minutes left and never looked back.
L. Rytas head coach Aleksandar Dzikic tried a very athletic starting frontline featuring Vilmantas Dilys and Jonas Valanciunas. Rice got the hosts going with a
layup that Rudez bettered with a corner triple for a 3-2 Cibona lead. Rice scored in penetration but Brian Chase quickly answered from downtown. Valanciunas
took over with a dunk and a layup by Dilys restored an 8-6 L. Rytas edge. Andrija Zizic shined with his trademark layup off a spin move but a longer jumper by Dilys
and three-pointers by Arturas Jomantas and Rice allowed Rytas to get a 8-17 lead, after a 0-9 run. Rudez hit free throws and Harper briefly silenced the crowd
with a fast break dunk that got Cibona within 12-17. Marin Rozic hit foul shots to cap a 7-0 Cibona run, 15-17. Katelynas shined with a backdoor layup, matched Antwain Barbour's jumper with free throws and nailed a triple to give L. Rytas a 17-24 margin after 10 minutes.
Suton downed a baseline shot early in the second quarter and Hrvoje Kovacevic followed an easy basket off a steal with a long jumper off the dribble for a 23-24
Cibona deficit. L. Rytas struggled to get open shots, so the hosts tried to get Valanciunas involved in the low post. He split free throws but a three-pointer by
Kovacevic and a layup-plus-foul by Harper completed Cibona's comeback, 29-25, after a 12-1 run. L. Rytas called timeout and Jomantas tried to change things with free
throws that Tomislav Zubcic matched in the other end. Samardziski took over with a two-handed dunk that made Cibona call timeout at 32-31. L. Rytas kept struggling
against Cibona's 2-3 zone defense while a running triple by Chase that Seibutis quickly answered from downtown to keep the hosts within 35-34. Zubcic followed a
five-meter shot with free throws and Barbour scored again but Jomantas and a buzzer-beating triple by Seibutis tied the game, 41-41, at halftime.
Rice struck from downtown immediately after the break and Seibutis matched Suton's a put-back layup with a jumper that gave the hosts a 43-46 lead. Rice kept pacing L. Rytas with a driving layup that Jure Lalic matched with foul shots. The hosts found easy points in the paint with Samardziski and Lawrence Roberts together on court but a stop-and-pop three-pointer by Chase kept Cibona within 48-54. Rice sank free throws but Harper bettred that with a big three-point play but a jumper by Seibutis and another basket in transition by Rice boosted the hosts' lead to 51-60. Harper quickly answered from downtown, as Cibona switched back to zone defense. Seibutis punished it with a triple and free throws by Rice made it a double-digit game, 54-65. Suton shined with a put-back basket off a timeout and a added a jump hook but Valanciunas and Goran Jeretin kept L. Rytas way ahead, 58-69, after 30 minutes.
Babrauskas was first to score in the fourth quarter and soon collected a steal that allowed Jeretin to make L. Rytas break the game open, 58-73, with 9 minutes to go. Cibona needed a quick comeback to keep its options alive but a red hot Babrauskas struck from downtown for an 18-point L. Rytas margin, 58-76. Suton hit free throws and soon added a jumper, as the hosts tried to use long possessions to run the game clock down. Suton managed to give Cibona some hope, 65-76, with 6 minutes to go. Samardziski and Rudez traded jumpers but free throws by Samardziski and a layup by Katelynas sealed the outcome, 67-82. Cibona kept trying but all L. Rytas fans were already celebrating that their team will have a chance to get to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for the third consecutive season.
Saturday, October 1, 2011