CSKA Moscow scored a hard-fought win over Benetton, 60-68, on Wednesday night in Treviso, Italy, to remain atop Group C with a 10-1 record. Former Benetton coach Ettore Messina guided CSKA to its eigtht straight win, thaks to a stand-out performance by Matjaz Smodis. The power forward missed only one shot on his way to 17 points and 7 rebounds. Center Aleksey Savrasenko was also near-perfect from the field on his way to 15 points. J.R. Holden finished with 12 points and 5 assists and Theo Papaloukas 11 for the reigning Euroleague champs. Benetton, which was without injured star power forward Marcus Goree, got 19 points from Matteo Soragna in the first half alone, but he went scoreless in the final 20 minutes. Nikos Zizis added 10 points and 5 assists and Spencer Nelson finished with 7 points and 8 rebounds. CSKA led for much of the game, going up by as many as 16 late in the third quarter. But Benetton stormed back in the final period and cut the gap to 5 with 42 seconds to go. The hosts had three open looks from downtown on their next possesion to get within 3, but couldn't sink one and when CSKA finally got the rebound, they let the clock run out and celebrated the win.
It all started in great fashion with an ovation to the returning Messina and a hug between him and Benetton coach David Blatt. Smodis opened the scoring for CSKA, but Joey Beard soon responded. CSKA pulled away early as Savrasenko and Smodis found open space in the paint to make it 2-9. Soragna came to the rescue with a three. Beard’s lay-up was then met by a three from Holden. Zizis returned the favor and when he added two from the line it was all square, 12-12. Holden and Soragna exchanged what were the last buckets for two-and-a-half minutes. Then Papaloukas took the floor to drill a three. Soragna answered twice before Papaloukas netted another jumper to make it 18-19 after 10 minutes.
CSKA committed a pair of turnovers to start the second quarter, but the Italian champs did not capitalize. Sticky defenses from both sides meant the score stalled for three minutes. Savrasenko broke the ice from the line, but Soragna was on hand again to score underneath. He then drew the foul after Holden had beaten the shot clock, 22-24. Smodis got a put back, but coach Messina was punished by the referee for arguing too much, resulting in two free throws. A great cut by Soragna and a three by Bryant Smith lifted the crowd as Benetton took the lead for the first time, 31-28. However, 4 points by Smodis returned the edge to CSKA with two-and-a-half minutes to go till halftime. The lead cotinued to sway from one side to another as Smith received an unsportsmanlike foul. In the absence of Goree, the physical battle in the paint was tough for Benetton, but Beard, Nelson and Angelo Gigli were fighting hard to keep the visitors at bay. However, some late free throws and a bucket by Smodis eventually gave the champs a 5-point lead at the break.
CSKA kept up the pressure on with a lovely hook by Savrasenko. A mixture of good defense and inaccurate shooting led to a three-minute scoring drought until Marco Mordente made a jumper. However Savrasenko kept causing problems in the zone. An amazing incident followed as the clock did not ring at the end of the 24 seconds and what looked like a late score from Smodis was allowed, sending the guests to a 12-point advantage. As a result, Blatt took a much-needed timeout to try to calm things down and reorganise his men. The game resumed under the boos from the crowd as Smodis got away from his marker for a fierce dunk. And when Trajan Langdon went through the traffic for an unbalanced lay-up and added a three, Benetton had a mountain of 16 points to climb with two minutes to play in the third quarter. Zizis made a three-point-play, but Tomas Van den Spiegel sank two from the line. Smith fired in a three to offer a slim hope to the host entering the deciding quarter.
Smith tried to get his team on the run, but Papaloukas in traffic answered immediately. Gigli connected beyond the arc before stealing and sending Zizis for an easy lay-up, cutting the deficit to 9 points and prompting a CSKA timeout. Papaloukas dished to Savrasenko to silence the crowd, 51-62. Gigli again from three kept Benetton’s hopes alive, 54-62 with three-and-a-half minutes to go. However, Holden got what seemed to be the knockout punch with a three that beat the shock clock. However, Nelson and Gigli reduced the gap to 7 with 4 quick points to set up an exciting last 1:15. Zizis coolly sank two from the line and a full-court press followed, paying off as the hosts got the ball back, with a 5-point deficit to shave in 42 seconds. Timeout. Gigli’s three-point attempt rolled frustratingly over the basket and out. Three more misses from downtown allowed CSKA to take a hard-fought road victory to stay atop of the group.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007