Zalgiris stayed in the fight to win Group A at the end of the regular season by thrashing visiting GHP Bamberg 86-65 in Kaunas, Lithuania on Thursday night. Zalgiris improved to 8-4 and ties with Climamio Bologna for the second place in Group A, while Bamberg dropped to 6-6 but made it to the Top 16 despite this loss, because Union Olimpija beat AEK in Athens. Bamberg has two victories against Union Olimpija, the only team that can now tie it for fifth place. Tanoka Beard led the winners with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Simonas Serapinas had 15 points off the bench, Reggie Freeman added 13 while Paulius Jankunas and Darjus Lavrinovic each scored 10 for Zalgiris. Steffen Hammann had 12 points for Bamberg, which became the first German team ever to reach the Top 16. Zalgiris led 40-37 at halftime but Beard and Serapinas shined in the second half to seal the win long before the final buzzer.
Beard got the first Zalgiris basket but Hamann responded with a nice layup. Bamberg ran its offense aggressively and forced Zalgiris to pick up three quick fouls while Hamann's free throws put the visitors up 3-4. Zalgiris found Beard outside the arc for a triple but Chris Ensminger hit turnaround jumper to tie 6-6. Jankunas converted an offensive rebound into easy points but Koko Archibong got open to tie for Bamberg, 10-10. Jankunas kept Zalgiris going with pair of three throws and a basket inside while Beard added difficult layup and Freeman nailed bomb from the downtown. Darjus Lavrinovic anchored the defense, rejecting a shot by Robert Garrett. Bamberg turned to its end-of-quarter ace, Derrick Phelps, for a buzzer-beater that hit nothing but net to cut the Zalgiris advantage to 21-18 after 10 minutes.
The Kaunas crowd welcomed new point gaurd Kenny Anderson to start the second quarter, but it was Serapinas who brought them to their feet with a spectacular dunk and layup. Bamberg didn't let up, however. Archibong made a three-point play before Anderson fed Darius Silinskis for a layup. With Beard on the bench, Ensminger grabbed an offensive rebound that was converted to three points by Phelps, then Garrett scored to get the visitors as close enough for Archibong to give them a lead with free throws, 27-28. Beard returned to assist Freeman on a three-point basket-plus-free throw to push Zalgiris back in front 30-28. Vidas Ginevicius came hot off the bench and nailed a three-pointer before Beard added another bsket that made it 36-30. Nelson went coast-to-coast among his back-to-back baskets for Bamberg, but Beard fed Lavrinovic for a two-handed dunk that left Zalgiris still in front, 40-37 a halftime.
Hamann shined early in the second half, hitting a semi-hook and a layup. But Zalgiris polished its offense as Freeman answered immediately with a jumper off the dribble, while Serapinas with Lavrinovic combined for 5 points to push hosts ahead 47-41. Bamberg turned to Archibong, but Lavrinovic rejected his shot, although Ensminger fed Nelson for a Bamberg basket. Zalgiris made a move now, finding Freeman and Ginevicius on the perimeter for back-to-back triples that produced the first double-digit lead, 55-43. The three-point shootout continued as Serapinas exchanged a pair of his own with Garrett and Tim Begley as Zalgiris retained a 63-49 advantage after 30 minutes.
Beard opened the final quarter with free throws and Serapinas fired up the crowd with a steal and dunk. Bamberg turned to man-to-man defense and it paid off soon with a steal and basket by Demond Mallet, but the Zalgiris offensive machine stayed smooth as Ginevicius connected from the corner to make it 71-51. Both teams exchanged the baskets before the pace slowed down until Beard crashed the board with a dunk and added a layup that boosted the lead to 75-55. Beard continued scoring from the foul line but Begley reacted with shot from the downtown. He later fired another triple from the left wing, but red-hot Zalgiris answered with 5 points by Jankunas and Lavrinovic to put another victory beyond doubt.
Thursday, January 26, 2006