Two Euroleague competitors playing for pride and third place in Group F gave the fans in Istanbul a show on Wednesday before host Efes Pilsen was able to pull away to a 101-84 victory against Ural Great of Russia. Efes raised its record to 2-3 while Ural dropped to 1-4. Efes used a zone defense and its young bucks off the bench to shut down Ural at a couple key junctures and move ahead of the visitors just one game before the end of the Top 16. Marcus Brown led the winners with 25 points, while Mehmet Okur added 22, Kaspars Kambala, Ardan Vekiloglu and Saulius Stombergas 11 each. For Ural, Alexander Bashminov had his biggest game of the season with 24 points, the same total as Ruslan Avleev. Ural played without the help of head coach Sergei Belov, who could not make the trip for personal reasons. His assistant, the legendary player Valdemaras Chomicius, coached in Belov's place.
Efes Pilsen started the game faster than Ural Great, taking a 5-0 lead after two minutes that included Saulius Stombergas nailing a quick three-pointer from the left side. Ural Great missed five straight attempts but was then able to string together enough points to take the lead, 5-7, on Vassili Karasev's jumper from the foul line. Efes tried to play the fastbreak game while Ural Great seemed content to push the ball inside to Alexander Bashminov, Mikhail Mikhailov and Ruslan Avleev, all of whom scored in the paint. As it turned out, both sides got much of what they were looking for as the first quarter finished with Efes Pilsen in the lead of a quick-paced, offensive game, 26-23.
The two teams, both eliminated from Final Four contention, seemed to want to give the crowd a show in the first quarter, but in the second, Efes turned to a zone defense and called on bench players like Omer Onan, Arda Vekiloglu Alper Yilmaz and Ender Arslan to execute it. The did their job as Efes shot ahead 32-23 on an inside drive by Onan that delighted the fans. The teenaged Arslan then turned it into a show when he made an incredible assist for a Mehmet Okur dunk for a 15-point Efes lead, 38-23, after 15 minutes. Ural than woke up from a sleep and found its first basket of the second quarter Bashminov dunk. Ural tried to come back from there, but was able just to reduce the difference to 10 points at the end of the second quarter, 48-38. Brown had 12 of those points and Okur 11 for Efes, Bashminov 9 and Sergei Panov 8 for Ural.
In the third period, Ural tried the same tactic that Efes used so effectively in the second: to concentrate on defense while trying to get its offense going. It worked. The visitors played well enough on the defensive end for 5 minutes to cut the deficit down to 56-52 on a three-point play by Mikhailov. But Efes turned to its zone defence again in the 26th minute and stopped Ural again. The hosts were able to get back all of their halftime lead when Vekiloglu tipped in a rebound right before the buzzer to put Efes up 10 points again, 71-61. The fourth quarter showed a drop in quality compared to the other quarters, but a rise in point-scoring that pleased the home crowd. With both teams losing motivation on defense, Efes was able to retain control of the match and even add to its lead, minute by minute, until finally Stombergas decided put the game away at the foulline for the Turks for a 101-84 final score.
Thursday, April 4, 2002
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul