Cibona VIP registered its first Top 16 win and intensified the race for the second quarterfinals berth from Group D when it beat visiting Montepaschi Siena 78-73 in Zagreb on Thursday night. Cibona now ties with Ulker for the third spot in Group D with a 1-3 record. Meanwhile, Montepaschi dropped to 2-2 in the standings but kept the second place right behind Maccabi, already qualified at 4-0. Branimir Longin led the winners with 21 points on 5 of 5 three-pointers, while Marton Bader posted a double-double, 17 points and 12 rebounds. Josip Vrankovic added 13 for Cibona, who played without its injured star, Marko Popovic. Bootsy Thornton had 11 points for Montepaschi, while Carlton Myers, Mindaugas Zukauskas and David Vanterpool each added 10 for the guests. Cibona used a 21-4 run in the opening quarter to get the lead for good. Even when Montepaschi stayed close enough to challenge late in the game, Longin broke the game with consecutive three-pointers in crunch time to seal the outcome.
Bader got Cibona started with a put-back layup. Montepaschi answered with solid defense while finding clear options on offense. Thornton made a running layup and Mindaugas Zukauskas a fastbreak basket as the visitors jumped in front 2-5. Stefanov fired in a three-pointer from the right wing soon after that for a 4-8 margin, but Cibona was getting ready to score. Bader nailed a triple from the top of the key and Longin one from the left corner, then Vrankovic capped a 8-0 run with a fastbreak layup that boosted the hosts into the lead, 12-8. Roberto Chiacig and Josko Poljak exchanged uncontested layups, but otherwise both teams struggled to score for awhile before Bader's second-chance basket made it 16-10. Vanterpool fed Stefanov to get Montepaschi closer, but Vrankovic slashed for a layup and Bader turned a fastbreak basket into a three-point play to push Cibona's lead to double digits at 23-12. Vrankovic capped a mamooth 21-4 run with another layup and Cibona finished the first quarter ahead by 25-13.
Vanterpool hit a four-meter jumper and Michalis Kakiouzis scored off a loose ball to pull Montepaschi within 27-17 early in the second quarter. The visitors had already improved their defense, but continued committing turnovers, one of which led to yet another fastbreak layup for Cibona, as Marin Rozic made it 29-17. Efthimios Rentzias stepped up with consecutive three-pointers from the top of the key to bring Montepaschi within 27-23. Cibona answered with a quick timeout, but Kakiouzis drilled another triple to cap a 0-9 run for a 29-26 score. Rozic found answers for Cibona with an easy layup, but Montepaschi was on the right track. Vanterpool drilled free throws and fed Rentzias for a five-meter jumper that made it a three-point game, 33-30. Cibona recovered once Vrankovic followed Poljak's easy basket with a floating jumper for a 37-32 edge, then Vladimir Krstic slashed for an outstanding layup in traffic which gave the hosts a 39-33 edge at halftime.
Cibona tried to break the game early in the third and found a go-to guy in Longin, who followed a three-pointer with free throws to boost the hosts' lead to 44-35. Bader had a big block on Chiacig that allowed a Longin to cap a 7-0 run in which he scored all points, giving Cibona a double-digit lead, 46-35. Montepaschi improved once Carlton Myers, Davide Lamma and Rentzias returned to the floor. Myers slashed for a basket and Kakiouzis added a short jumper trying to ignite a comeback. Cibona answered back with a close basket by Bader and a one-handed jumper in the paint by Vrankovic. Longin and Krstic then blasted consecutive hits from downtown to break the game open at 58-41 after 28 minutes. Ben Eze woke Montepaschi up with back-to-back dunks, the second coming with a free throw that cut the difference down to 10 points, 58-48, where it stayed after Andrej Stimac and Zukauskas exchanged triples for a 61-51 Cibona lead after 30 minutes.
Montepaschi needed a quick rally in the final quarter, but Cibona controlled the tempo with long possessions, even though its shooters were off-target. After Eze's third dunk in 4 minutes, Vanterpool slashed to bring the guests within single digits, 63-55, with less than 6 minutes to go. Cibona now struggled to score, while Myers nailed a corner three-pointer to make it a five-point game, 63-58. The hosts called timeout and tried to get back on track with a mid-range shot by Bader and a catch-and-shoot jumper by Morovic. Zukauskas gave Montepaschi some fresh air with a three-pointer, but Montepaschi still trailed 67-61 with less than 4 minutes remaining. It was do-or-die time for the guests, but Eze missed free throws and Zukauskas added a turnover. That's when Longin sealed the win for Cibona with back-to-back triples, supplying a 74-64 edge that was enough to secure Cibona's first victory in the Top 16.
Thursday, March 17, 2005