Zenit stays strong to down Zalgiris
Zenit St Petersburg held firm to take a 77-65 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas in a closely contested showdown on Friday night. There was nothing between the teams in a first half that ended 36-36 after 13 ties, but Zenit took charge during the second half to gradually establish a solid lead and protect its position in the playoffs places. Arturas Gudaitis led Zenit with 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Mateusz Ponitka also scored 15 and Billy Baron added 11. Thomas Walkup top scored for Zalgiris with 12 points, with Joffrey Lauvergne (11), Lukas Lekavicius (11) and Marius Grigonis (10) also scoring in double figures. Zenit improves to 12-6 and Zalgiris drops to 11-9 after suffering two defeats this week.
Ponitka glided to the basket to open the scoring, before Walkup responded with a floater. Lauvergne’s three-point play gave Zalgiris its first lead and Grigonis struck from deep, but Ponitka responded from beyond the arc for a 10-8 lead. Augustine Rubit and Rokas Jokubaitis sent Zalgiris in front, but Andrey Zubkov and Baron swished triples to make it 17-14 after ten minutes. Jokubaitis scored 4 points early in the second to tie it up, 19-19, and the low scoring continued as neither team netted a field goal for more than two minutes. Zubkov dunked and KC Rivers nailed a mid-range jumper, but Jokubaitis and Lauvergne kept Zalgiris level. Ponitka struck from the corner but Grigonis responded with a three-point play, 27-27. Austin Hollins dunked, Arturas Milaknis and Vitaly Fridzon struck from deep, before Jokubaitis and Lauvergne combined for an alley-oop and it was 36-36 at the break. Gudaitis opened the second half’s scoring, but Milaknis again hit from deep. Two more inside scores for Gudaitis gave Zenit fresh air, Ponitka stretched the lead to 47-41, and four points from Anton Pushkov maintained the advantage. Baron struck from beyond the arc, making it 56-49 at the end of the third. Lekavicius pulled Zalgiris closer with five points early in the fourth, but Hollins hit a pair of jumpers to make it 62-54. Baron added another triple and Zubkov did likewise for a 68-56 lead with four minutes remaining. Nigel Hayes gave Zalgiris hope from long-range, but Kevin Pangos struck from beyond the arc and Zenit’s defense held firm the rest of the way.
Zenit tops Zalgiris again
Having already won at Zalgiris earlier in the season, this victory completes the sweep for Zenit, which has now won all four EuroLeague meetings between the teams.
Host overcomes early shooting woes
Both teams struggled for offense in the opening stages, with only two baskets scored in the first 3:40. Zenit made only 1 of its first 6 field goal tries and Mateusz Ponitka was the only home team player to score from the field in the first nine minutes. But the host soon improved and finished with a strong 14-of-21 two-point conversions (66.7%).
Century of blocks for Gudaitis
Arturas Gudaitis was the game’s outstanding player with 15 points and 8 rebounds as he shone against his former club, and the big man also reached a career milestone with his 100th career blocked shot in the competition. He becomes the 39th player to reach that figure, tied with Maceo Baston and Adam Hanga.
Both teams will be at home next week for big games in the race for the playoffs. Zenit welcomes Anadolu Efes Istanbul on Thursday, and Zalgiris receives a visit from Olympiacos Piraeus the following day.
Friday, January 15, 2021