Ulker Istanbul took a giant step forward in what has become a high-pressure Group B when it turned back visiting Zalgiris Kaunas, one of the hottest teams of the month, by a healthy 79-66. Ulker's defense was huge at either end of the game, allowing Zalgiris only 11 points in the first quarter and 10 in the fourth. Zalgiris rallied in the middle to tie it, but could not sustain the comeback once Ulker turned the defensive screws again. The victory assured Ulker (6-3) of a piece of second place after the duel between co-leaders Kinder Bologna and Barcelona finished later on Thursday. For Zalgiris (3-6), the loss of its three-game winning streak may not be fatal to its hopes of finishing fourth, but it can ill-afford losses after this. Ulker was led in scoring by its inside duo of Quadre Lollis, with 19 points, and Bud Eley, with 15. For Zalgiris, marksman Donatas Slanina scored 20, a dozen of those while shooting Zalgiris back into the game in the second quarter, and Tomas Masiulis added 11.
Ulker started the game very fast, taking a 10-point lead after 5 minutes on an inside drive by power forward Quadre Lollis (14 - 4). Dainius Salenga helped bring the visitors back with a three-pointer that reduced the difference to five, 14-9. But that five-point surge over barely two minutes was the bulk of the Zalgiris offense for the whole quarter. Most of the first period, the visitors could not pierce the Ulker defense, which had the biggest say in the 20-11 lead the home team had at the end. Ulker shooter Miljan Goljovic was almost up to the Zalgiris total by himself, scoring 8 points by that time.
Ulker's lead suddenly spiked to 13 points, 24-11, in just the first minute of the second quarter with two quick fastbreak baskets by Lollis and Robert Stelmahers. Within another couple minutes, big man Bud Eley was joining the fun and the home team's advantage had ballooned to 29-13. Then, midway through the quarter, Zalgiris switched to zone pressure in attempts to slow down the fast game of their Turkish hosts. This helped the visitors close the gap, as a jumper from Donatas Slanina made it 31-24 after 16 minutes. One of the best streak shooters in the league, Slanina was the key factor in keeping Zalgiris in the game as he fired in 12 points in the quarter, more than his whole team in the first. But Ulker still managed to finish the first half with a comfortable 42-34 edge.
Zalgiris finally equalled the match in the third period. Hiznjak's three-point play under the basket helped the Lithuanian side to match the score at 44-44 in just the 22nd minute. But Ulker did not lose control of the game and answered Zalgiris with perfect defense good for another 1s-point lead, 59-47 on inside baskets by Haluk Yildirim and Lollis. Zalgiris was not done, however. It took advantage of some Ulker misses to catch up to 62-56 on a Arturas Masiulis inside basket with a minute left in the quarter. But a fantastic three-pointer from Tutku Acik just 3 seconds before the buzeer rallied Ulker to a nine-point lead, 65-56, just 10 minutes from game's end.
Both sides seemed to feel the pressure in the last quarter as missed shots came after one another. But Ulker keep the control of the game in hand with Lollis and Goljovic baskets that kept the lead at double digits, 70-60, midway through the quarter. Acik also was doing a job against Zalgiris's injured go-to player, Steve Woodberry, allowing him just four points and stealing a very important ball with four minutes to play. That turnover, among others, by Zalgiris cleared the way to victory for Ulker. The Lithuanians sent out four shooters aiming to score three-pointers in the last two minutes, but that last hope to catch Ulker did not work.
Thursday, December 20, 2001