The 2002-03 Euroleague started well for fans in Zagreb on Thursday, as they witnessed their team, Cibona VIP, defeat Greek League champion AEK Athens by 85-71 in Group A. What looked to be a game going to the wire became a one-man show late in the third quarter. That's when Darko Krunic started breaking the game wide open for Cibona with some brilliant shooting that eventually undid AEK. With two important players, Zoran Planinic and Niksa Prkacin, benched with four fouls and the score knotted at 49-49, Krunic came in and made immediate impact, conecting on a triple 9 seconds before the end of third. That was just the begining. By the end of the game he had scored 11 more points for a total of 17. New big man Haris Mujezinovic kept Cibona alive throughout the game and finished with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. Prkacin added 13 and Matej Mamic 12 for Cibona. For the losers, Mikalis Kakiouzis nailed 15 points, Nikos Hatzis and Christos Tapoutos 13 each and Andrew Betts 12. The game will go down as a great start for Cibona, which had lost four times in the last three years against AEK.
Cibona started rolling in the first period with a 7-0 run culminated with a three by Haris Mujezinovic that forced AEK head coach Dragan Sakota to call the first timeout. AEK was quickly back action, however, with a three by Mikalis Kakiouzis and a shot-plus-foul worth the same from John Rillie. That tied the game at 10-10 in minute 5. It was Pero Antic, with an easy layup, who put AEK ahead for the first time at 13-14. But the game stood on a balanced dimension, in which both teams were always close to each other. Niksa Prkacin gave a little boost to his team in two consecutive plays, first a 3-point play and later a steal that produced a fastbreak that put the hosts ahead at 21-15, which Davor Kus made 23-15 with two more free throws at the end of the first quarter.
At the beginning of the second, the teams looked like they had changed roles as AEK improved in defense to force bad shots of the hosts, while Cibona allowed easy baskets to AEK, who hit for an 8-0 to tie at 23-23 after a three by Nikos Hatzis. Cibona even missed the second options off offensive rebounds, and AEK took advantege of it to jump ahead 23-26. It was Darko Krunic, who after 3 minutes, scored a three for Cibona in the second quarter to give life to his team again, and put things like they were in first quarter, 30-28 in minute 15. Cibona was in command again, creating good options for Mujezinovic under the rim, while AEK's Rodney Blakney was sat in the bench after a couple unforced mistakes. At the break, the hosts were ahead again, 37-33 after an 8-meter three on the buzzer by Barisa Krasic.
After some consecutive plays with no points, Nikolaos Zisis put the game in a scoring mood again. The hosts soon learnt that their best weapon would be the paint game of Mujezinovic and Prkacin, who always overcame their defendants. On the other hand, AEK didn't show much order in the offensive end, and had to rely on Hatzis and Rillie for long-range shots, for 43-42, when Andrew Betts, the best man for the Yellows, wasn't around. Mujezinovic became the main pillar of the hosts, and when he got tired of playing in the paint, he also went outside to hit threes. A technical foul called on Zoran Planinic allowed AEK to remain on trail, until Kakiouzis tied the game at 49 from the charity line. With three minutes to go in the quarter, Prkacin had to go to the bench after committing his fourth foul. A three by Darko Krunic from the side with second to go, put the 58-52 after 30 minutes.
The last quarter saw only one game, and that one was Cibona. While the Greek team suffered too much to head towards the basket of the rival, the guests cruised to victory through the figure of Krunic, who delivered lethel assists on the fastbreak, or nailed some threes when he didn't find anybody. Midway through the period, Cibona was already ahead by 16, 70-54 after a 12-2 tear. The Betts of the first half had vanished, and Hatzis and Christos Tapoutos tried to keep the guests in the game from the arc rather unsuccessfully, 83-66. Kus sealed the win for the hosts with an easy lay-up in the last seconds, earning Cibona the first Euroleague win of the season against the Greek champs.
Thursday, October 10, 2002