The earliest combatants on decision day in the Euroleague had to wait hours to learn their fates Thursday after Skipper Bologna beat CSKA 75-77 in Moscow to raise the possibility of three- and four-way ties to be broken in Group C. From across the continent late in the evening however, both teams found out that they had made it because Krka Novo Mesto rallied miraculously to stop their potential partner, Pau-Orthez, while Real Madrid stayed out of the fray by stopping leader Panathinaikos in Athens. As such, CSKA and Skipper finished tied for third place with 8-5 records and advanced together to the Top 16. Having split their games together, both winning by two points, it came down to a third tiebreaker, season-long cumulative point differential. Skipper's was better (+42) than CSKA's (+32), so it took third place and the Russians fourth.
Veteran center Zoran Savic again proved key for Skipper as he put down the winning points on a layup with 13 seconds left to break a tie. Savic, who finished with 13 points, combined with fellow veterans Gianluca Basile (18), Gregor Fucka (13) and Andrea Meneghin (11), not to mention with newcomer Davor Marcelic (12) to provide scoring variety throughout the game. Gordan Giricek's 28 points and 24 by Curtis McCants were not enough for CSKA on a night when regular season MVP Mirsad Turkcan was limited on the offensive end of the floor to 9 points, if not on the defensive end, where he had 15 rebounds and some spectacular blocks. CSKA's real problem was on the defensive perimeter, where Skipper shooters rained down 15 out their 30 three-point attempts.
The decisive duel began with a 5-0 run for the hosts, but Basile put balance back on the scoreboard with 3 consecutive three-pointers to pull Skipper within 14-13. What came before, however, wore Giricek's name, which forced coach Matteo Boniciolli to change Marko Milic for Davor Marcelic, who, as former teammate, probably knows Giricek better. With a three-pointer sunk by Zoran Savic, of whom the Russian defense was not aware at that moment, the score was locked at 16-16. Immediately afterwards, Gregor Fucka scored to put the Italians in the lead 16-18 in the eighth minute. CSKA coach Valeri Tikhonenko called a timeout, but his team wasn't able to cut the deficit down again until the end of the period, 20-22.
In the second quarter,Turkcan appeared. Apart from his 6 points, Turkcan became the key player for CKSA thanks to tough defense, which improved upon his performance in the first quarter. Turkan's defense in the period could be summarized by the two huge straight blocks he had on Emilio Kovacic, with a different hand each time, plays which earned the right to be among this season's highlights. Skipper turned to a zone defense, but Giricek punished the guests with his long-distance shooting. From 38-33, CSKA climbed to a 46-33 edge, but Andrea Meneghin and Marko Milic replied with back-to-back threes that gave Skipper some hope back for the second half, down by only 46-41.
The third quarter was more of the same; a good game, fast, tense, with brilliant plays and unusual mistakes that revealed nervousness in both teams. With another three by Savic for 51-49, Skipper kept CSKA at a reachable distance, and yet another three by Basile for 53-52 turned the score into a real threat for the hosts. Good shooting numbers (60% in two-pointers) and several good plays by Giricek maintained the small leads for the Russians, but Skipper was always too close, 61-59 at the end of the third.
In the last quarter, relying on three-pointers again, Skipper jumped in the lead at 63-64 with a tracer by Meneghin, then Mercelic dropped another one for a 65-67 visitors lead. The three-point shootout continued with Basile and Meneghin, again, as Skipper's lead soared to 66-73 and Tikhonenko had to call a timeou. That did not break Skipper's streak, either, as a basket by Fucka extended the lead to 7 points, only 2 points away from mathematically qualifying the visitors for the Top 16. But CSKA reacted once more and Skipper collected 7 straight scoreless possessions that allowed the hosts to tie the score through McCants at 75-75 with 33 seconds to go. On Skipper's last possession, Savic hit a layup for 75-77 with 13 seconds remaining, while Giricek missed everything in his game-winning shot attempt for CSKA. A great win for the Italians was complete.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Maria Kravtchenko, Moscow