Even with a bit of pregame controversy going against it, CSKA Moscow showed on Wednesday why it is undisputed Group C leader as it defeated visiting Adecco Asvel with ease, 85-65. The victory improves CSKA's record to 9-2, within a victory of clinching first place in the group, and came despite the pre-game suspension of forward Darius Songaila for what team officials described as published comments detrimental to the club. Asvel got the worst of the night, however, dropping 3-8 to see its already slim options for the Top 16 evaporate. The game started balanced enough, but a burst led by Nikos Hatzivrettas in the second quarter put the hosts in charge for good. CSKA eventually reached a maximum lead of 31 points. Hatzivrettas was the best contributor for CSKA with 20 points (3 of 4 three-pointers). Victor Alexander nailed 16 more and J.R. Holden added 11. For Asvel, Simon Petrov and Sacha Giffa hit 14 each, while Davor Marcelic shot in 10 more.
The game started with a good pressure by Asvel on defense, reflected with quick and easy baskets on the offensive end to give the visitors an 0-5 start after Giffa's three-pointer. Right after that, however, Hatzivrettas sent his first warning with his first three of the night. Giffa was very active under the boards though, and he pulled a three-point play to put Asvel ahead by 7 points, 3-10. It was time for CSKA coach Duda Ivkovic to call a timeout. And that was it. Holden started distributing the ball with quick and smart passes, while Alexander made his way in the paint against a helpless Robert Gulyas. But it was Hatzivrettas who scored most for his team, in fact, one of his threes put CSKA ahead for the first time, 11-10. Asvel started to look confused on offense due to good defensive rotations by CSKA, leading to a layup by Holden that made it 16-12. The quarter ended with a monster dunk by Victor Khryapa for an 18-12 home advantage that would set the mood for the following quarter.
In the second period, CSKA totally rolled over an impotent Adecco Asvel, as the hosts now took over the rebounding war, too. Hatzivrettas had no mercy on the guests as he scored from every position to end the first half with 18 points already. Holden delivered assists that elicited "oohs" and "aahs" from the stands, and Alexander stuck to his job in the paint to end the quarter with 12 points. It wasn't until Davor Marcelic scored a free throw that Asvel broke a 12-0 CSKA run at 36-15. That single free throw seemed to spark a reaction in the guests, who first improved the defense and later their shooting efficiency. Vasco Evtimov stepped on court to put a little order in the offensive plays of the guests, and Gulyas also contributed to a small improvement at 39-22. But it was only a mirage as Alexander and Hatzivrettas hit baskets again to leave the score at 43-25 at the break.
The second half wasn't much different from the second quarter. CSKA was outrebounding Asvel by 21-10 and also had better shooting percentages. Hatzivrettas decreased his scoring rhythm but then the hosts found contribution from all players, starting with Sergey Monya to Aleksander Bashminov, whose mid-range jumper from the side put a 53-25 on the scoreboard. A three by Holden earned CSKA the maximum lead of the game, 31 points at 60-29, and the game was completely broken open. It was then, though, when Asvel seemed to approach the rival basket with more aggressiveness and cut the deficit down to 65-39 after 30 minutes.
The last quarter was used by the French team to cut the margin even more as Marcelic hit 2 consecutive threes from the side that would pull Asvel within 69-47. The guests had a 2-12 run in the first minutes of the period for 69-51. But that was all, as CSKA decided that it had seen enough and Zakhar Pashutine replied with a three that would set the final trend of the game, with the hosts always leading by around 20 points. The French team added up 16 turnovers and that was also a decisive aspect of the game. Asvel's zone defense wasn't very effective against CSKA's shooters, as Alexander hit from long range for 74-53. The game was decided and both teams let the clock run, as the game ended with a rain of threes, 2 for Asvel and 1 for CSKA until the final 85-65. CSKA's fans celebrated the easy win that allowed their team to plan now for clinching first place in Group C.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003