Down 15 points with 12 minutes to play, Zalgiris Kaunas roared back for a 65-72 Group B road win over Krka in Novo Mesto, Slovenia on Thursday to keep hope alive for the Top 16. Zalgiris raised its record to 6-7, which put it in a fifth-place tie with Panathinaikos, which lost at Unicaja. Nonetheless, due to tiebreak disadvantages with several teams above it, Zalgiris needs to beat CSKA at home in the final game of the season and hope that is enough to keep it in the Top 16, perhaps as the best sixth-place wildcard team. Arvydas Sabonis was again the main man for Zalgiris, scoring 17 points that included 5 after the game was tied with under 2 minutes left. Dainius Salenga followed him with 14 points, Tanoka Beard 12, Ainars Bagatskis and Ed Cota 10 each. For Krka, whose record fell to 2-11, Jure Balazic put up 15 points, Slavko Duscak 14 and Rick Rickert 12.
Krka coach Petar Skansi started with an unusual starting five, including Srdjan Subotic at a guard position. The game opened with easy points from Sabonis, while Krka big man Marton Bader and Clarence Gilbert could not connect on three attempts from downtown. Boris Gnjidic eventually equalled for the hosts, but with a lot of misses on both sides, not more points were scored until the minute 6, when Rick Rickert found a basket a 4-2 Krka lead. Gilbert would soon make the game's first three-pointer for a 7-4 home lead, while the Krka defense put together a stronger and stronger performance, particulary stopping Sabonis. Some great plays by Dainuis Salenga for Zalgiris were followed by 5 points from Slavko Duscak and a layup by Gilbert that kept Krka iin front, 16-13, after 10 minutes.
Krka increased its lead to start the second quarter as Rickert and Duscak added to their point totals to make it 22-14. That advantage melted, however, as Ed Cota and Tanoka Beard brought Zalgiris within 24-20 after 16 minutes. Krka had its own Lithuanian shooter to put on the court now, Mindzaugas Budzinauskas, and as soon as he got there, he improved the hosts' lead to 27-20. But shortly, 4 points in a row by Cota and a dunk from Beard got Zalgiris back within a single point, at 27-26, with 3 minutes to go in the quarter. Beard was the man who gave Zalgiris its second lead of the game, 27-28, but Rickert immedately answered for Krka with his 12 point. Marko Antonijevic kept Krka going with a basket before youngster Balazic scored from downtown to complete a 9-1 run with a 36-29 home lead at the half.
The new half started with Sabonis returning to the court for Zalgiris after having rested the entire second quarter. Krka's kid Balazic scored two times in a row from downtown for a 44-31 lead for Krka after 24 minutes. Bader added his first points to further increase Krka's lead to 46-31, the top advantage of the game. That 10-2 run by Krka was stopped by Sabonis, whose basket woke up his teammates. Cota scored his first three-pointer, but that was answered by 4 points in a row from Duscak. Krka still led late in the quarter, but Airnas Bagatskis started the big Zalgiris comeback when his three-pointer cut the differenct to 53-44 after 30 minutes.
To start the fourth quarter, Mindaugas Timinskas joined the Zalgiris sharpshooters, and after Beard put in a shot near the basket, the guests were within 53-49 based on an 0-11 partial score that bridged the final two quarters. Soon after Balazic scored his 15th point, Zalgiris answered with another three-pointer from Bagatskis that made it a game, at 59-56, with 6 minutes to go. Zalgiris missed its next four three-point attempts, while Gilbert nailed one of his own to keep Krka up 62-56. Sabonis scored now for Zalgiris, and Salenga made a steal and layup for a 64-62 scoreboard with 2 minutes to go. After a pair of Bagatskis free throws tied it, then came Sabonis time. The Zalgiris legend turned around the scoreboard with 5 points in a row to put his team up 64-69 with less than a minute to go. Gilbert and Duscak then missed triples for Krka and Zalgiris had the victory it needed to keep fighting for the Top 16.
Thursday, February 12, 2004