Zalgiris kept its Top 16 chances alive on Thursday with a 68-61 win over Cibona Zagreb in Kaunas, Lithuania. Zalgiris improved to 2-7 and visits Fenerbahce Ulker next week in a must-win contest that could propel it to the next stage. Cibona fell to the same record and hosts Asvel Basket next week in a game that will also directly impact the Top 16 race. In its first Euroleague game under new head coach Ramunas Butautas, Zalgiris led from start to finish, opening the game with a 13-0 run and never looking back. The lead reached 20 when Dainius Salenga heated up in the second quarter. Cibona showed signs of a comeback in the third quarter, but that fell apart when Luksa Andric committed his fourth foul, slammed the ball in frustration, was called for a technical and sat down, leaving Zalgiris to rebuild its lead from the line. Back-to-back threes by Marcus Brown and Mantas Kalnietis early in the fourth effectively put the game away. Brown led the winners with a season-high 20 points, Tadas Klimavicius added 12, Salenga 11 and Travis Watson posted 10 points and 8 rebounds to help his team outrebound Cibona 37-25. Marko Tomas paced Cibona with 18 points and Marin Rozic and Vedran Princ added 11 each.
The game could not have started any better for Zalgiris as Klimavicius nailed a three-pointer on its first possession and Watson scored on the next before Cibona’s Dalibor Bagaric committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Klimavicius. After 2 free throws and a Watson basket, Zalgiris was in complete control. Watson added another score on the offensive glass before Brown dished to a cutting Kalnietis to cap Zalgiris’s amazing 13-0 start. Andric finally took a ball inside, scored and was fouled, giving the visitors their first points more than three-and-a-half minutes into the game. Tomas soon added a free throw for Cibona, but free throws by Salenga and Brown put the gap at 17-4. Rozic and Brown traded baskets. Brown remained hot with a three-pointer that increased the lead to 16. Andric scored a second-chance basket and Rozic penetrated for another score as Cibona trimmed the deficit to 24-10 at the end of the quarter.
Klimavicus opened the second quarter like the first – with a three-pointer. Tomas raced down court for a layup, but Mirza Begic kept Zalgiris in control with a basket on the offensive glass. Rozic made free throws and Tomas was fouled from behind by Klimavicus after a steal. He made 2 free throws, but Cibona did not capitalize on the resulting possession and Brown punished a minute later with a three that made it 32-16. Salenga followed Rozic free throws a triple and a bank shot to up the lead to 19. Before long the host were up 20 thanks to another score by Salenga. Tomas remained Cibona’s top scoring option as he tallied 4 more points before the break to make it 39-23 at halftime.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored his first points with a triple at the start of the third quarter, but the visitors soon lost Andric, who took a seat with 3 fouls. Salenga scored a jumper after grabbing an offensive rebound, but Princ bettered him with a triple. Rozic attacked the basket and earned a trip to the line, where he brought his team within 11. Rozic lobbed to Leon Radosevic for a slam as Cibona’s confidence grew. But it would be short-lived as Mirza Begic took a dish from Salenga for a power slam and Brown followed with a triple to bring the fans back. After a Cibona timeout, Marty Pocius fed a cutting Klimavicus underneath for a basket-plus-foul. Tomas hit a mid-range jumper and a little after a three. Robert Troha also made a three to cut the gap to 11. Zalgiris used a timeout to regroup. It didn’t work out at first, but Andric committed a foul going for a rebound – his fourth – and slammed the ball down in frustration. He was whistled for a technical foul – his fifth personal – and sat down. Klimavicius and Brown made free throws that allowed the hosts to go ahead 54-40 at the end of the quarter.
Princ cut to the basket for the opening score of the fourth quarter, but Watson scored on the offensive glass for Zalgiris. Prince again went through the Zalgiris defense for a layup, but Brown banked in a three as the 24-second clock expired. Prince finally missed a layup attempt and Kalnietis punished with a three that took the lead to 18. Rozic countered with a long jumper for Cibona, but Watson again scored on the offensive glass. The game took a sour note a little later for the hosts when Watson came down awkwardly on his ankle and needed to be carried off the court. Bagaric took advantage of Watson’s absence to score inside and Princ added a reverse layup. Mirza Begic fouled out for Zalgiris, but time was running out for Cibona. Brown added free throws to give Zalgiris a comfortable cushion Tomas and Tomislav Zubcic fired in late threes, but it was too little, too late as Zalgiris and its fans celebrated the victory.
Thursday, January 7, 2010