Cibona shook off consecutive losses in Group B by downing Armani Jeans Milano 100-91 at home in Zagreb, Croatia on Wednesday. Cibona improved to 2-2 in the group standings, while Milano dropped to 0-4. Larry Ayuso paced the winners with 30 points, including15-for-15 free throw shoting. Sam Hoskin added 18 points and 8 rebounds, Chris Warren had 13 in 15 minutes while Damir Mulaomerovic scored 12 points and dished 5 assists for Cibona. Ansu Sesay led Milano with 24 points. Danilo Gallinari added 20, Travis Watson had 13 and Massimo Bulleri 12. The first half happened to be a run-and-gun show in that Hoskin and Ayuso led a near-perfect Cibona offense to make the hosts get a 53-46 lead at the break. Gallinari and just-signed Melvin Booker brought Milano within 68-65, but Mulaomerovic and Ayuso struck from downtown in a 10-0 run that allowed Cibona to boost its margin to 80-67 after three quarters. Milano did not recover, allowing Cibona to cruise to a much-needed, well-deserved win.
Milano powered the offensive boards in the early going until Sesay got his team going with a layup. Warren answered from downtown for a 3-2 Cibona edge. Milano tried to run its offense through Sesay, who scored in transition before Booker added an acrobatic layup to put Milano back ahead, 3-7. Vedran Vukusic hit free throws for Cibona, but Gallinari answered from downtown, as Watson kept rebounding well at both ends. Sesay boosted the guests with a fallaway jumper, then a triple by Vukusic got Cibona within 10-12. Booker kept Milano scoring with a jumper while Watson rolled off a pick for one basket and then hit a layup off a steal to make it 10-18 and force a Cibona timeout. Little changed immediately as Gallinari soon added free throws and a driving basket to give Milano a 12-22 margin. Cibona called then on veteran Mulaomerovic, who struck from downtown and followed Luksa Andric's jump hook with a driving layup to get the hosts within 19-22. Sesay's layup-plus-free throw and Ayuso's triple cancelled each other out before free throws by Vukusic and a layup by Andric let Cibona regain the lead, 26-25, after 10 minutes.
In the early second quarter, Andric and Hoskin picked up baskets to raise Cibona's lead to 30-26. For Milano, Bulleri got his first basket, a stop-and-pop jumper, but Ayuso bettered it with another triple. Reece Gaines hit a driving layup for Milano, Hoskin answered for Cibona, but red-hot Sesay hit a long two-pointer and Gaines a triple for a 35-35 tie. Gallinari capped a 0-7 run with a corner jumper as Milano went ahead again, but Warren joined the three-point festival to provide another lead change, 38-37. It changed again despite Ayuso's free throws because Watson responded with a dunk and put-back layup at 40-41. Both teams kept trading baskets at full speed: Warren fired again from downtown, Gallinari dunked, and Barisa Krasic scored off an inbounds pass. By the time Warren hit a step-back jumper, it was 49-43 and Milano needed to talk about it. Ayuso and Hoskin made foul shots to give Cibona a double-digit lead, 53-43, but a three-point by play by Booker got Milano within 53-46 at halftime. Cibona's offensive numbers said it all so far: 10-of-14 two-pointers, 7-of-9 triples and 12-of-12 free throws.
Cibona improved its defense after the break while Warren buried a tough jumper for a 55-46 lead. Booker quickly answered in transition, but as Milano switched to a 2-3 zone defense, Hoskin broke it with a driving layup. Gallinari rescued Milano's offense with a three-pointer but Hoskin matched it with a dunk-and-free throw, good for a 60-50 Cibona margin. Gallinari insisted from downtown and Bulleri copied him soon after that to give the guests some hope at 62-56. Sesay hit free throws and then matched Barisa Krasic's triple with another shot from beyond the arc. It was 65-61 and MIlano was closing in until Hoskin's three-point play let Cibona breathe. But Milano was surging, as Gallinari's free throws and Watson scoring inside made it 68-65. Ayuso, however, beat the guests' zone with a triple while Mulamerovic soon added another. Ayuso closed what became a 10-0 Cibona run with a driving basket, good for a 78-65 Cibona lead that held at 80-67 after 30 minutes.
Mindaugas Katelynas tried to ignit the guests' comeback early in the fourth quarter but Marin Rozic and a corner triple by Andric boosted Cibona's lead to 85-70 with 7 minutes to go. Rozic dunked it off a midcourt steal, making coach Attilio Caja call timeout at 87-70. Milano needed a miracle rally now, as Cibona opted to finally slow down its offense to keep its lead alive. Sesay nailed his second three-pointer but Ayuso finished a second-chance Cibona offense with free throws for a 89-73 Cibona lead. Milano kept struggling to score and both teams already fought for points differential once the outcome was clear. Sesay kept trying for Milano with a corner triple and a high-flying dunk for a 89-78 deficit. Ayuso made more foul shots off a Cibona timeout but Pietro Aradori got the guests even closer, 91-81. Nothing changed in the final 2 minutes, as even when Milano kept trying, it happened to be too little, too late for the guests, as Ayuso followed a jumper with an acrobatic three-point play to make Cibona seal the win in style.
Cibona head coach, Josip Vrankovic
"I am satisfied. We played kind of a safer game. Kelley did not play a lot of minutes because I did not want accidentally to see a repeat of what happened to him three days earlier against Partizan in the Adriatic League. Plus, Mulaomerovic is at the level we wanted him to start playing. On this team there are players with strong characters, and we still need time for all the pieces to jell together. We have a lot of reserve in us, and have a lot to offer. There are plusses we are getting out of every game, but we just need to be patient. Warren had a problem with a contact lens in the beginning. He gives us a lot every game, but today we had other players going on offense, so I used Rozic defensively a little more."
Cibona guard, Larry Ayuso
"It is definitely an important win for us. I got more opportunities in this game. I was in more situations when we needed it and I was able to convert. When we are scoring, we go to the guys who are playing well. Tonight was my night, and the ball went to me. As a team, we've still got work to do. Our defense can be better, we got a lot of ups and downs, but if we control that, we can be in every game. And that is the most important, to be in every game in the fourth quarter."
Cibona forward, Barisa Krasic
"We were under certain pressure to win. It is not easy to play like that, and we can be happy, especially with the final score but not as much with our play."
Armani Jeans Milano head coach, Attilio Caja
"Tonight, we played superb on offense, but we did not manage to do the same on defense. Against Ayuso and other players, we needed to defend their penetration better, and to play tougher defense. Unfortunately, we were not up to the task. Cibona scored a lot of easy points and deserved the victory. I am very pleased with the performance of Melvin Booker. He is the reason why we scored so many points and played excellent on offense. Also, it does not happen every day that an opposing team scores all 23 of its free throw attempts and shoots three-pointers at 52 percent. We cannot look forward too far. We have to go day by day. We will soon change some players."
Armani Jeans Milano forward, Ansu Sesay
"We started pretty well but had a dry spell on offense and we did not have defense. If we played a little defense we would have probably ended up with the win because our offense was really good. We played pretty good defense in a zone, but we did not have rebounding out of the zone defense. Every game we are getting better, but we need tougher defense, a little bit of communication and a little bit of hustle."
Wednesday, November 14, 2007