Barcelona has registered a much-needed but very nerve-wracking triumph, its first at home in this Euroleague, by defeating winless Zalgiris 90-86 after a game where the lead changes were continous. Power forward Ademola Okulaja finally settled the matter for the home team at the end, scoring 9 points in the final 4 minutes. A free throw by Juan Carlos Navarro with six seconds to go denied Zalgiris the chance to try to tie and go to overtime for its first victory of an increasingly worrisome campaign for the Lithuanian champions. "It was time for us to win at home," Olulaja said. "I'm not interested on my points. I think today we played well as a team." Okulaja led his team with 24 points and Navarro added 17. Zalgiris finally got a big game out of Donatas Slanina, who scored 31 points, and Steve Woodberry, who added 22, but it wasn't enough again. Zalgiris is now 0-6. Barcelona improves to 3-2 despite having lost its first two home games of the season.
Barcelona opened the score through Okulaja, but Zalgiris took the lead at 4-5 and kept it for five minutes, until 20-19, with a good man-to-man defense and four baskets without a miss from its center Hiznjak. It made useless all Barcelona's rebounding. At the end of the first quarter, however, the teams were just as tied as at the start, but 24 points each later. In the second quarter, Zalgiris regained the lead with an 0-4 run to 28-24. Aito García Reneses, Barcelona's coach, made continous changes and his team improved its shooting with Arturas Karnisovas and Navarro, grabbing its highest lead to that point, 45-38 just 2 minutes before halftime. But those 2 minutes would be long ones for the home team, as the Lithuanians escaped on an 0-8 run that put them ahead at halftime, 45-46.
Another big run (0-7) put Zalgiris ahead one more time in the third quarter: 51-56 with 5 minutes to go. Barcelona had only one basket in this period before Karnisovas scored a three-pointer after missing three in a row. And it seemed to be like a signal, because it let loose a string of big plays starting with a jumper from Sarunas Jasikevicius. There folowed a steal and dunk from Alain Digbeu and another three by Jasikevicius after Digbeu blocked a shot by Hiznak. It all added up to what looked like the answer for the home team: a 10-0 run for a 61-56 advantage. But Zalgiris came back with five points from Woodberry and a three by Andrius Jurkunas to lead 61-64. Okulaja answered this time for Barcelona, putting his team briefly ahead, 67-66, but Zalgiris closed out the quarter with another bucket and a 67-68 edge.
Neither team let the other get too far away after that. Slanina was up to 29 points before going to the bench with his fourth personal foul. Zalgiris got a three-point lead, 74-77, but two fouls and one turnover from Hiznjak brought the hosts ahead again 78-77. That was the time for Okulaja, who scored eight straight points and put Barcelona ahead for good at 86-83. Slanina and Salenga missed three-point attempts in the last seconds, trying to bring the game to the overtime, but a free throw from Navarro sealed the score with 6 seconds remaining.
Thursday, November 8, 2001