Lietuvos Rytas is back to the ULEB Cup final! L. Rytas advanced to the title game for the second time in three ULEB Cup appearances despite a 72-69 road loss against BC FMP in Zeleznik, Serbia, on Tuesday night. L. Rytas defeated FMP 79-68 in the first leg in Vilnius, Lithuania, and accordingly clinched a spot int he title game in Charleroi, Belgium, with the aggregate win. Matt Nielsen had 19 points for L. Rytas while Kareem Rush added 15, but Eurelijus Zukauskas's 4 blocks were equally important. Aleksandar Rasic and Zoran Erceg each had 15 points for FMP, Milos Teodosic added 14 – going a perfect 9-of-9 from the line – while Branko Cvetkovic scored 11 points for the hosts. FMP, backed by a wild sellout crowd, led 28-18 late in the second quarter. Cvetkovic put the hosts up 9 and had FMP knocking at the door of breaking the game open early in the third period as well, but Nielsen scored half of L. Rytas's points during a 0-10 run that put the Lithuanian champs back in control. FMP never got back into the series, as L. Rytas used a patient offense to keep fighting for ULEB Cup glory.
Bojan Krstovic got FMP going with a free throw and Rasic buried a triple from the right wing for a 4-0 FMP lead. L. Rytas went scoreless for almost 2 minutes until Rush fired in a three-pointer from the corner. Rasic continued to pace FMP with a layup-plus-foul, but L. Rytas had finally adjusted its defense against him. Meanwhile, Nielsen nailed one from downtown to get L. Rytas within 7-6. Erceg scored in the low post, but Nielsen erased it with a fast break dunk and a foul shot for a 9-9 tie. Arturas Jomantas took over with a driving layup, but Erceg bettered that with a three-point play, good for a 12-11 FMP edge. Both teams had already entered the foul bonus and Erceg took advantage to hit free throws, while on the other end L. Rytas had trouble finding easy shots. Rush stepped up with foul shots, but Predrag Samardziski matched with a layup. Janis Blums buried a triple before free throws from Dragan Labovic and another easy basket by Samardziski gave FMP a 20-16 edge after 10 minutes.
Rush beat FMP's zone defense with a short jumper, but the game had turned into a physical battle and the hosts made the most out of it. Djordje Micic stepped up with a fast break layup and Teodosic buried a three-pointer to give FMP a 26-18 lead. L. Rytas called timeout, but Marko Djerasimovic took over with a fast break layup to bring the hosts back into the series, 28-18. Roberts Stelmahers silenced the crowd with a triple and Nielsen scored around the basket as L. Rytas used Zukauskas in the middle of a 2-3 zone defense to improve. Rasic fed Micic for an easy layup, which Nielsen erased at the other end. Jomantas scored in the low post, causing FMP to call timeout at 30-27. Nielsen hit a turnaround jumper and Zukauskas dunked it to put L. Rytas back ahead, 30-31. Erceg followed a free throw with a reverse layup, igniting a 7-1 run during which Teodosic hit foul shots and Samardziski had a slam to give FMP a 37-32 halftime edge.
Jomantas provided a highlight with a big block on Krstovic right after the break and Rush followed with a jumper for a 37-34 L. Rytas deficit. Cvetkovic made free throws and so did Erceg. Cvetkovic then ran the length of court to score an off-balance layup, forcing L. Rytas to call timeout at 43-34. Nielsen stepped up with free throws, as L. Rytas improved its defense just as it mattered. Stelmahers scored in penetration and Mindaugas Lukauskis hit a triple from the corner to make the hosts call timeout at 43-42. Nielsen capped a 0-10 run with a turnaround jumper, but free throws by Samardziski kept FMP ahead. Teodosic took over with a driving layup, but Tomas Delininkaitis answered from downtown for a 47-47 tie. Teodosic paced FMP with 5 free throws and then fed Cvetkovic for a three-pointer. But Stelmahers and Delininkaitis shined with consecutive triples to get Rytas within 57-53 after three quarters.
Marijonas Petravicius made free throws at the start of the final period as L. Rytas had already started using long possessions to keep its lead alive. Jomantas beat the shot clock with a long two-pointer to tie it at 57-57. Time was running out for the hosts, as they went scoreless for almost 3 minutes until Rasic stepped up with a fast break layup. Nielsen shined with an easy layup, but Rasic erased it at the other end and soon added a free throws for a 62-59 FMP lead with 5 minutes to go. Rush scored in the paint, but FMP kept fighting. Cvetkovic made 3-of-4 foul shots, but once again Rush hit a jumper to put the series on ice. Both teams fought for a prestigious win now, as a free throw by Rasic gave FMP a 69-67 edge wth 50 seconds to go. Rush made foul shots, but Rasic banked it a three-pointer for a 72-69 final score. FMP won the battle, but L. Rytas won the war and made it once again to the ULEB Cup final!
Tuesday, March 20, 2007