Efes Pilsen kept pace in a tight Group B race as it mowed down visiting Cibona 100-74 at home in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday. Its fourth win in the last five games left Efes with a 5-3 record that will be good for at least a share of fourth place - and maybe more - at the end of the week. Regardless, Efes will be only one victory behind the Group B leader or leaders. Cibona, meanwhile, dropped to 3-5 and is looking at what is likely a long battle for Top 16 position. Drew Nicholas shook off a hand injury to lead five double-figure scorers from Efes with 20 points. Kenny Gregory and Andre Hutson followed with 16 each. Scoonie Penn had 13 points and 9 assists, while Ermal Kuqo only missed a free throw while scoring 11 points. Cibona got 16 points from Chris Warren, 15 from Sam Hoskin and 11 from Larry Ayuso, but suffered from 19% three-point accuracy, making only 4 of 21 shot attempts from long distance.
Ayuso launched one of his patented rainbow three-pointers to give Cibona an early 4-5 advantage, but that only caused Efes to pull out all its weapons. The result was a 10-1 blast based on baskets by Penn, Hutson, Gregory and Nicholas, whose three-pointer put the hosts in charge at 14-6. Both sides kept driving at the basket and forcing both fouls and defensive changes as points proved easy to come by. Cibona quickly climbed back to within 20-17 as Damir Mulaomerovic sparked a response with his first basket and an assist to Sam Hoskin, while Warren buried a triple. Moments after taking the floor, however, Serkan Erdogan rang up 3 points from downtown to keep Efes comfortable at 25-18 after 10 minutes.
Cibona closed the gap early in the second quarter as Tre Kelley and Warren made it 27-23, but Erdogan was waiting with another bomb and the lead soon rose to 34-25 on free throws by Nicholas. Midway through the quarter, Gregory nailed a jumper to give Efes its first double-digit lead, 37-27. Penn rattled in a triple to keep the hosts up by 11 points before Luksa Andric scored 4 in a row for Cibona to make it 40-33. Gregory brought the home crowd to its feel by rising for an alley-oop dunk assisted by Penn, and soon Nicholas was consolidating that momentum with triple that supplied the highest lead yet, 50-35. Another alley-oop by Gregory delighted the crowd, but a three-point play by Hoskins and a four-pointer by Ayuso - on a triple-plus-free throw - left a 52-42 scoreboard at the break.
Efes made an impressive start to the second half, with fastbreak after fastbreak lengthening the hosts' advantage minute by minute. By the time Nicholas measured off a three-pointer midway through the quarter, the score 71-48. Cibona kept struggling on offense, a situation made worst for the visitors since Ayuso and Andric were in foul trouble with four each. Hutson completed a 21-8 run with a jump shot to make it 73-50, and then after Cibona scored again, Efes added 4 more points, including another spectacular dunk by Gregory at 77-52. Even when Warren and Vedran Vukusic were able to score now for Cibona, Efes still cruised ahead by 79-59 after 30 minutes.
Vukusic's three-pointer to open the final quarter reduced the differenct to 17 points, 79-62, but even as the fevered scoring tempo cooled, Efes kept control of the game as Hutson, Kuqo and Nicholas made sure their team's 20-point advantage was not jeopardized. Indeed, they kept building on it, with a jumper by Nicholas with 3 minutes left making it a 92-66 scoreboard and the only doubt left was whether Efes would reach the century mark. When the hosts did just that, the home fans got an extra bonus in addition to see their team keep rising in Group B.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007