Group C winners CSKA Moscow didn't have many problems on Wednesday night to defeat visiting Virtus Bologna by 80-65 and possibly jeopardize the Italian team's Top 16 chances. Right from the start, the Russians managed to build a double-digit lead that was maintained throughout most of the rest of the way, even though Virtus came back as close as 5 points midway through the third quarter. The deep bench of CSKA allowed the hosts to regain big leads, however, and win going away. The win improves CSKA's record to 11-2 as the Russians bid for the best regular season record. Meanwhile, Virtus drops to 6-7, and will have to wait until next week when it faces Olympiacos to assure its Top 16 berth. Nikos Hatzivrettas and Victor Alexander paced the winners with 16 points apiece, Darius Songaila added 13 and John Robert Holden bagged 12. For Virtus, Matjaz Smodis exploded for 26 points to lead all scorers, while Dejan Koturovic was the other only player to hit double digits, with 12 points.
From the very first minute, CSKA showed that it meant meant business. Alexander hit his first 3 shots before Songaila blasted off with 5 points in a row. After Hatzivrettas and Holden joined the scoring, the ball went again to Songaila, who added 2 more baskets to earn the hosts a 17-8 lead. At the other end, Virtus had all its points until then on the inside, by veterans Frosini and Koturovic, but tried to attack the vaunted CSKA defense from all positions. They were not as successful as Songaila, however. By minute 8, after two more baskets, he was up to 11 points and CSKA was already leading by double digits, 21-11. With a Hatzivrettas triple, CSKA threatened to run away at 24-11, but Matjaz Smodis was able to answer with the same before the quarter ended with Virtus looking at a 10-point deficit, 24-14.
The second quarter was almost an exact replica of the first. Virtus kept on committing turnovers, while Holden injected his fast tempo into CSKA. Victor Alexander added his contribution from under the boards. Smodis and Hatzivrettas had their particular duel from the 6.25 line, both having made 3 of 5 before halftime. Holden's triple for a 40-22 CSKA lead turned the alarm on for Virtus. After a timeout, the visitors' defense improved. CSKA didn't get points so easily, but on the other hand, neither did Virtus. What's more, the guests also had difficulties at the free throw line. Despite pulling 4 offensive rebounds, Virtus didn't take advantage of its second options, and Hatzivrettas answered to that with yet another three, bringing him to 14 points thusfar. At halftime, CSKA was fully in charge already at 43-28.
The first minutes of the third quarter saw a much more active Virtus, which hit a 0-7 run, with 5 straight points by Smodis, to cut the deficit down to 47-39. CSKA had decreased its intensity level on defense, and the good shooting efficiency from Hatzivrettas, Songaila and Holden in the first half also went down. Despite the jumper by Alexander Bashminov, a three by Derrick Dial and a layup by Eric Murdock coming off a steal, pulled Virtus within 49-44. But that was all thet the guests would do in the game, as CSKA coach Dusan Ivkovic called a timeout to rearrange his team on court. First Sergei Monya from downtown and later Bashminov answered for the locals as the lead went to two figures again at 54-44. Virtus was also finding difficulties on offense again and by the end of third quarter, the hosts were holding onto that 10-point margin, 58-48.
The last quarter started with a fifth foul on Songaila. But that didn't seem to worry Ivkovic, who sat Holden to give some minutes to Evgenyi Pashutin. Under his direction, CSKA made a 5-0 run to a 15-point lead again, 63-48. At that point, Virtus seemed to realize that the win would stay in Moscow, and from then on both teams played to maintain the score. CSKA though, moved the ball fast enough to drive the Virtus defense to distraction, and Monya slammed from the side to raise the fans in their seats at 69-53. Holden stepped back on court and CSKA managed to increase the lead a little more, to 79-60 with one minute to go. In the last moments, Virtus improved a little its free throw shooting numbers to go back to Bologna with a 15-point defeat from Moscow, 80-65.
Wednesday, February 5, 2003