KK Zadar roared back from 10 points behind in the final quarter to storm into the second round of the ULEB Cup with a thrilling 81-79 win over visiting Caprabo Lleida of Spain. The victory, combined with Charleroi's earlier win at Ricoh Astronauts, gave Zadar the advantage in any eventual ties in Group D. The Zadar fans can thank Marko Popovic and Marko Samanic, who sparked that fourth-quarter turnaround and finished with 26 and 22 points, respectively. Hrvoje Perincic added 13 points for the winners, whose record improved to 5-4 and means a four-way tie for first place in the group with Varese (a loser at Cholet) Lleida and Charleroi. Lleida will have its fate in its hands against fifth-place Cholet (4-5) in the last regular season game next week. Lleida had 19 points each from A.J. Bramlett and Berni Alvarez on Tuesday, 16 from Michael Ruffin and 11 from Sergio Ramos.
Popovic made the game's opening layup and assisted on another by Marko Banic, which would have been unremarkable except that the Zadar defense was holding Lleida scoreless for a full 4 minutes. A third Marko, Samanic, now hit a pair of inside shots, but in between A.J. Bramlett finally got Lleida in the scoring column, so the home team lead was 8-2. Samanic kept at it with another bucket for a 10-2 Zadar lead. Now, neither team could find the hoop, so there the score remained through 7 minutes, until Michael Ruffin got Lleida's second basket, but Banic added to Zadar's edge with a pair of free throws for 12-4. Jaume Comas answered in kind for Lleida, then Bramlett and Sergio Ramos scored layups and suddenly the battle was joined. Another Banic layup was necessary for Zadar to make it through 10 minutes holding somethin other than the minimum lead, 14-11.
Ramos resumed his warnings with 5 points early in the second quarter, including the three-pointer that tied it 16-16 for Lleida. The fun was just starting for the visitors. In due course, Berni Alvarez joined the party with back-to-back threes good for a 19-24 lead that amounted to a 13-point turnaround on the scoreboard in just 6 minutes. Lost in the size of its earlier lead was the fact that Zadar couldn't hit any threes. The home team missed 10 before Michael Meeks landed his for 22-24 after 15 minutes. popovic then tied witha layup but Manel Bosch canned one from deep and Lleida led 24-27. After another Alvarez triple, Zadar's response finally came. Samanic scored the first 5 points of a 7-2 run that tied it up, 34-34. But he wasn't done. His three-point play underneath kept the run going until Zadar had the scoreboard back on its side at 39-36 for halftime.
The third quarter proved just as contentious. After 4 minutes, Alvarez regain the lead for Lleida with his fourth three-pointer, 45-47, but was answered in kind by Meeks. The new Zadar lead only lasted until Bramlett and Ruffin detonated dunks to put Lleida up 48-51 after 26 minutes. Lleida was on its way now. Ruffin stayed hot and Alvarez fired in a fifth triple as the visitors finished off the third quarter with dominance. Only a Popovic three-pointer stemmed the tide for Zadar and limited Lleida's run to 6-11. Even so, the Spanish visitors had done enough damage to enter the final quarter leading 54-62.
That Lleida lead reached 10 points, 54-64, on a Roger Grimau layup to start the final quarter, but that was when Zadar's comeback began. Samanic started it with a layup that sparked an 18-10 turnaround run to a 72-72 tie with under 5 minutes left. Popovic went wild, hitting his first three-pointers of the game, while Meeks stayed with him with another. A Popovic triple would give the hosts a 77-76 lead going into the last 2 minutes, and that held when Bramlett missed 1 of 2 free throws with 1 minute to play. In that final minute, Perincic made a pair of free throws to raise the lead to 80-77, while Ramos made only 1 of his 2 in response for Lleida. Popovic and Grimau followed suit, missing one each, as the score reached 81-79. The offensive rebound of Grimau's miss went to Alvarez, who attempted his 10th three-pointer. This one missed, however, and with it the Zadar fans knew they would see their team play the next ULEB Cup round.
Tuesday, January 7, 2003