Ulker reached the Euroleague Quarterfinals Playoffs in thrilling fashion on Thursday, by rallying from 9 points down in the final 5 minutes to beat Cibona VIP 64-68 in Zagreb, Croatia and take second place in Group D of the Top 16. If Ulker had lost the game, it would have been eliminated. Ulker improved to 3-3 in the standings, behind undefeated Maccabi, and will now face CSKA in the best-of-three quarterfinals, starting next Tuesday in Moscow. Cibona led 62-53 midway through the final period, but Ulker used a 1-13 run in which Serkan Erdogan and Virginijus Praskevicius nailed a shot apiece from downtown to get the visitors back into the game. It all came down to the final minute, in which Tutku Acik became the hero with a crucial triple with 32.8 seconds to go that sealed the outcome. Kerem Gonlum led the winners with 14 points while Erdogan, Praskevicius and Eurelijus Zukauskas each had 10 for Ulker. Zukauskas added 7 rebounds and 4 blocks in yet another defensive exhibition. Josko Poljak led Cibona with 17 points, Vladimir Krstic added 16 off the bench while Marton Bader had 10 for the hosts.
Gonlum opened fire with a dunk in traffic, but Damir Markota matched that with a jump hook at the other end to get Cibona started. Ulker tried to set the pace with strong defense, while Kerem Tunceri slashed for a layup and Zukauskas added a free throw for a 2-5 edge. Both teams then went scoreless for 2 intense minutes until Tunceri made a free throw. Ulker allowed only 2 points for those opening 4 minutes until Branimir Longin scored around the basket, but Gonlum matched that immediately and Zukauskas dunked to force a Cibona timeout with 4-10 on the scoreboard. The talk helped to improve the hosts' shot selection, as Poljak stepped up with a put-back basket and Marin Rozic scored in penetration to bring Cibona within 8-13. Poljak had time for another power basket in the paint and added a jump hook before Gonlum broke Cibona's zone defense with an uncontested layup to secure a 12-19 Ulker lead after 10 minutes.
Cibona struggled offensively early in the second quarter, while Praskevicius nailed the first three-pointer of the game for a 14-23 Ulker margin. Cibona went scoreless for almost 3 minutes until Bader took over with a two-handed dunk. Josip Vrankovic slashed for a layup that made it a five-point game, 18-23, as Ulker was now the team having trouble getting past Cibona's zone defense. Krstic added a big triple to Cibona's run while Poljak capped it at 8-0 with a free throw that cut the difference to a single point, 22-23. Erdogan came to Ulker's rescue with free throws, but Bader soon followed Poljak's reverse layup with his second dunk for Cibona's first lead, 26-25. Ulker center Fatih Solak followed a free throw with a dunk, Erdogan addded a layup and Acik a three-pointer from the top of the arc to send the guests back in front, 29-33. But before the half could end, Andrej Stimac blasted a corner triple to bring Cibona within 32-33 at the break.
Bader scored near the basket early in the third and Krstic nailed a three from the left wing to boost Cibona in front, 37-33. Ulker could not find a way to the basket until Praskevicius took over with a three-pointer. When Stombergas followed with a turnaround jumper, Ulker had the lead back, 37-38. Krstic reappeared for a three-point play, however, and then added a bomb from downtown to put Cibona back in charge, 43-41. Zukauskas followed a hook shot in the paint with a short jumper, but the red-hot Krstic slashed to tie the game, 45-45. Both teams exchanged baskets at full speed now, Vrankovic scoring in the paint for Cibona and Dusan Vukcevic on a jumper for Ulker. Gonlum made an outstanding reverse layup that gave Ulker a slim 48-49 lead, but Poljak turned a running layup into a basket-plus-foul before adding yet another basket, putting Cibona up again. Vedran Morovic capped an 8-0 run with 3 free throws that gave Cibona a 56-49 lead after 30 minutes.
Gonlum scored off a pick-and-roll to get Ulker started in the final quarter. Poljak answered with a layup and added a big block on Gonlum in the other end, as the guests struggled to score. Meanwhile, Marin Rozic nailed a big three-pointer to boost Cibona's lead to double digits, 61-51, with under 7 minutes to go. Gonlum tried to ignit the comeback with a power layup, and added another close basket that brought the guests within 62-55 with 4 minutes remaining. Ulker had already improved its defense, and now Erdogan nailed a corner three-pointer to give his team some hope at 62-58. Cibona called timeout, but Acik made a free throw and Stombergas added a fast break layup to get the guests within a point, 62-61. After Cibona committed a five-second violation, Praskevicius drilled a corner triple that capped a 1-13 run with Ulker in front, 62-64. Krstic slashed to the basket to tie, 64-64, already in the final minute. After an Ulker timeout, Acik became the man of the game with a crucial triple from the wing with 32.8 seconds on the clock. After Bader missed a layup, Erdogan sealed the win on a free throw with 8 seconds remaining, enough to send Ulker to the quarterfinals playoff after a great comeback!
Thursday, March 31, 2005