First place in Group C was clinched by Montepaschi Siena when it escaped from Sofia, Bulgaria on Tuesday with a thrilling 76-81 victory over host Lukoil Academic. Montepaschi improved to 7-2 and as group leader will enjoy home court advantage in the upcoming elimination rounds. Lukoil Academic dropped to 4-5 and must wait to know its destiny. Montepaschi ran out to an early 7-13 lead, but it proved only to be the first of several runs by both teams. The guests led 32-3 at haltime, but Lukoil used a 21-5 after the break to surge ahead, 53-44 advantage. Siena answered with a 9-2 run and added another of 7-0 in the final quarter to take control for good. Rimas Kaukenas led the way for Siena with 17 points, while Romain Sato amassed a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Joe Forte added 12 with 5 assists. Todor Stoykov and Riste Stefanov bagged 12 apiece for Lukoil. Big man Mate Skelin added 10 and pulled down 18 rebounds, tying the third-best rebound total in ULEB Cup history, while Lamont Jones dished 5 assist and tallied 10 points.
Shaun Stonerook opening the scoring from downtown for Montepaschi, but by the time Riste Stefanov did the same for Lukoil, the score was tied 5-5. Back-to-back triples from Kaukenas and Sato sent Siena on an 8-2 run to a 7-13 lead, but Stefanov stayed on fire leading the hosts trail that Lamont Jones capped with a lay up for the 14-15. Montepaschi called timeout and got Skelin to the foul line, but Jones soon gave Lukoil its first advantage of the game by beating the buzzer to go ahead 18-17 at the end of the first quarter. Newcomer guard Donta Smith added a bucket to the Lukoil lead early in the second quarter, but 6 points amassed quickly by Stonerook and Lonnie Baxter took it back for Siena at 20-23. Lukoil kept struggling with its downtown shooting, but found free throws from Smith and a layup by Jamel Brown to take another slim cushion, 26-25. Brown posted 4 more points in a row, but saw Marco Carraretto and Forte repy for a new Montepaschi lead at 30-31. Gjorgji Cekovski tied it up 32-32 for Lukoil before Siena exploded again, with a quarter-ending 0-7 blast capped by Forte that left the guests in charge, 32-39, at halftime.
Stoykov, the ULEB Cup all-time scoring leader, hit 5 consecutive points to get Lukoil rolling in the second half, however Skelin copied him almost point-for-point to make it 41-41. Cekovski kept the hosts going, however, with a triple that capped a 12-2 run with Lukoil up 44-41. An exchange of baskets and free throws came before Cekovski was back and rocking from long distance. Stoykov then added a dunk after a steal to push the hosts to their best advantage of the game, 51-44, midway through the quarter. Skelin pulled down and converted an offensive to start Montepaschi coming back. Kaukenas proved that the guests were still alive by nailing 4 consecutive points that reduced the difference to 53-48. Lukoil did not respond, but instead let youngster Lorenzo D'Ercole score a huge bomb that brought Siena within 55-53. A dunk by Smith finished the quarter with Lukoil hanging onto a 60-55 margin. Montepaschi started the final quarter with another explosion, 7 unanswered points in which Kaukenas downed 5 to take a new lead at 60-62. Lukoil responded as Smith slammed to re-take the lead, 64-62, but a three-point-play by Eze changed again the leading team. Forte gave Siena a 66-68 cushion before Stoykov answered from downtown coming off a pick to boost Lukoil in front again, 69-68. Sato used all his athletic skills to score 5 points that put Siena in front 69-73 with under 3 minutes left. A thriller was in the air, even though Kaukenas found an easy layup at 69-75, Siena's biggest lead awhile. Stefanov stepped up big-time and excited the crowd with an incredible four-point triple-plus-free throw to put Lukoil back on track at 73-75. After Sato was perfect from the foul line, Jones reduced the gap to 76-77, then Forte scored both his free throws and Eze blocked the attempt of Stoykov to seal win and first place in group C for Siena.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007