Cibona VIP took a major step up towards the Top 16 in Group A by breaking the seven-game win streak of Efes Pilsen with and 82-72 home win in Zagreb, Croatia on Wednesday. Cibona improved to 6-4 in the standings and remains tied with Real Madrid for the third place in the group. Meanwhile, Efes dropped to 8-2 and is now tied on victories with Climamio Bologna for first place. Newcomer Gerald Fitch led the winners with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting and 8 rebounds. Marko Popovic added 16 points and three other Cibona players - Andrej Stimac, Marton Bader and Josip Vrankovic - had 9 points each. Goran Nikolic led Efes with a double-double of 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting and 10 rebounds. Will Solomon added 14 points, Ermal Kuqo 13 and Ender Arslan 11 for the guests. Cibona broke the game early in the third quarter and its 14-for-31 accuracy from three-point range - including 5 triples early in the final quarter - ensured the hosts a double-digit margin until the final buzzer.
Efes Pilsen started the game at full speed, as Kuqo followed Solomon's three-pointer with a power basket for a 3-5 lead. It didn't last long, however, as Fitch followed a put-back layup with hit from downtown, igniting a 10-0 run capped by Bader's dunk for a 13-5 Cibona lead. Efes could not find the way to the basket, as the hosts' defense made the guests committ 5 turnovers in as many minutes. The guests went scoreless for more than 4 minutes until Mustafa Abi fed Nikolic for a mid-range jumper and a 13-7 Efes deficit. The game turned into a defenseive battle, with blocked shots and steals in both ends of the floor. Solomon broke 2 scoreless minutes with a layup which Kuqo followed with a basket off a steal to make it a two-point game, 13-11. A three-pointer by a recovered Branimir Longin gave Cibona a 16-11 lead after 10 minutes.
Cibona kept its aggressivity in defense early in the second, not allowing easy shots. Meanwhile, back-to-back baskets by Popovic gave the hosts their biggest lead so far, 20-11. Nikolic tried to wake the guests up with a mid-range jumper, but Vladimir Krstic immediately answered for downtown, extending Cibona's lead to double digits, 23-13. Efes called timeout and Niksa Prkacin drilled free throws for a 23-15 score, but Cibona was unstoppable now. Krstic scored in penetration and Andrija Zizic added a put-back layup to boost Cibona's margin to 29-15. Only then Efes started to rally, as Prkacin's free throws ignited a 0-10 run in which Nikolic had 5 points, as the guests made it a four-point game at 29-25. Cibona went scoreless for 4 full minutes until Fitch stepped up with a layup, while a put-back basket by Andrej Stimac extended the hosts' margin to 34-28 at halftime.
Zizic fed Fitch for a layup to start the third quarter, as Efes now had troubles in both ends of the floor. Fitch drilled a three-pointer, and Popovic added his own shot from downtown to give Cibona a 13-point lead at 46-33. The guests struggled in offense, while Cibona powered the boards for second chance points. As such, a put-back by the ever-present Fitch forced an Efes timeout at 49-33, as the guests had been limited to 5 points in as many minutes. Nikolic scored soon after that, but nothing change, as Efes had lost control. A technical foul on the guests' head coach Oktay Mahmuti allowed Cibona to extend its lead to 55-36, after a three-pointer by Josip Vrankovic. Arslan came to the rescue, scoring free throws and adding two hits from the arc, while Nikolic added a layup to bring Efes within 58-46. A big three by Popovic made Cibona extend its margin to 61-48 after 30 minutes.
Efes needed a quick comeback to get back into the game, and Nikolic opened the final period with a three-point play to bring the guests within 61-51. But the comeback feeling didn't last as Cibona started its own competition from beyond the arc. Popovic drilled a three-pointer that Fitch and Stimac matched soon after to extend the lead to 70-53 with 8 minutes remaining. Efes continued on having trouble scoring against Cibona's physical defense, while yet another three by Fitch made it a 20-point game, 75-55, midway through the final quarter. The outcome was especially clear once Krstic made Cibona's fifth three in this period for a 78-55 lead. Efes needed a miracle now, and kept trying for one. Solomon drilled 2 three-pointers, Kuqo added 5 quick points and Nikolic a three-point play in a 2-16 run which brought Efes within 80-71 already in the final minute. It happened to be too little, too late, however, as Cibona had already sealed the win long before the final buzzer.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005