Group G has an exclusive, undefeated and some would say surprise leader one-third of the way through the Top 16, none other than Cibona Zagreb after it downed Efes Pilsen 63-69 on the road in Istanbul on Wednesday. Cibona's third win against Efes this season, following a pair in the first round, left it with a 2-0 mark atop Group G, while Efes dropped to 1-1 and a share of second place. Once again, Scoonie Penn led the winners with 23 points while hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers. He scored 9 points on three triples in the first quarter to push Cibona ahead and 12 of his points in the last period to keep the visitors there. Four other Cibona players - Davor Kus, Chris Warren, Bennett Davison and Damir Markota - has 8 or 9 points. Efes, which suffered 20-for-65 shooting, got 15 points and 7 steals from Kaya Peker. Erden Arslan added 14 points while Henry Domercant and Antonio Granger each had 11 for the hosts. Efes got its last lead, 41-40, late in the third quarter, but then Markota all of his 8 points in a 4-13 run that put Cibona fully in charge, 45-53, after 30 minutes. Efes got as close as 54-59, but Davison Bennett dunked it before Penn nailed back-to-back threes to seal the win.
Cibona started the game as it had its two regular season victories against Efes, making it extremely hard for the hosts to score while Penn took over. His three-pointer in the second minute gave Cibona its first lead, 2-5. A minute later, he buried another to make it 4-8, and shortly after that was back with a third strike from downtown for a 4-11 scoreboard. Kerem Gonlum finally broke through Cibona's defense for Efes and his teammates followed. Arslan buried the first triple for the hosts, then he and Antonio Granger got to the line to draw Efes within 13-14. Arslan then capped his fine quarter by hitting triple to tie it all up, 16-16, after 10 minutes.
Chris Warren made free throws early in the second quarter to keep Cibona ahead, but only until Arslan downed a jumper and Niksa Prkacin a layup for a 20-18 Efes lead. When Warren tied it again at the line, Kaya Peker and Domercant responded by hitting baskets that gave Efes a 24-20 edge, but Cibona was not bothered. Warren got help from the Cibona bench, as Davor Kus stepped up with consecutive three-pointers and Juric Zuza added a layup to tie 28-28. Defenses tightened over the final 2 minutes, with only Penn getting a basket on a fastbreak to give the visitors a 29-30 lead at the half.
Cibona had a very fast start to the second half, as another a pair of three-pointers, this time from Kus and Davor Marcelic, made it 31-36 for the guests. Mrcelic added a layup and Mate Skelin another to make it 33-40 before Efes fought back. Peker took the responsibility on his shoulders by scoring 8 consecutive points on a dunk, layup, jump shot and free throws to vault Efes into the lead again, 41-40. But Cibona's three-point shooters never thought to stop. In the last 3 minutes of the quarter, Markota hit a pair of shots from the arc sandwiched around one from Warren. When Bennett Davison added a layup and Markota free throws, the guests had a 4-13 run and a 45-53 edge after 30 minutes.
A spectacular dunk by Davison kept Cibona's run going into the final quarter and raised its lead to double digits, 45-55. Efes turned to its pressure defense to try to turn the game around, and was able to cut the difference in half on 5 points shared by Peker and Granger. Penn stopped the slide for Cibona with a jumper, and soon traded free throws with Arslan, leaving a 54-59 score going into the last 5 minutes. In the next one, however, Penn decided it. He followed a big dunk by Davison with a three-pointer to restore a 54-64 lead. After free throws by Granger, Penn was back with his fifth triple of the night, good for a 56-67 lead. There was only time left for Efes to trim the difference and hope and tip its hat to Cibona, the new exclusive leader of Group G.
Wednesday, March 1, 2006