Zalgiris held tight to third place in Group B on Thursday by downing visiting Krka Novo Mesto, 98-75, with a show of inside power over the visitors' fine shooting. Zalgiris improves to 4-2, falling in behind co-leaders CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv, both 5-1 after CSKA's comeback in Tel Aviv. Krka fell to 1-5 and a sixth-place tie with Unicaja. Zalgiris placed 5 scorers in in double figures, led by Ed Cota, with 20 points and 6 assists. Tanoka Beard had 18 points and 8 rebounds for the winners. Miroslav Beric added 14 points, Mindaugas Timinskas 12 and Paulius Jankunas 10. Arvydas Sabonis, slowed by fever, had 9 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 21 minutes. Marton Bader led Krka with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Clarence Gilbert added 14 points and Slavko Duscak 12 for the guests. Zalgiris made 37 out of 57 field goals and outrebounded its opponents 38-23.
Aware of Krka's shooting potential, Zalgiris started the game focused on good perimetric defense and without Arvydas Sabonis. Arturas Javtokas opened the score with a dunk but Marton Bader immediately replied with a jumper. After a couple of turnovers by Salenga and Javtokas, Slavko Duscak put his team in the lead, 2-4. Tanoka Beard converted 1 free throw and then bulldozed the Krka defense for a basket. But then Rick Rickert with a three-plus-one play and Marko Antonijevic with a layup increased the Krka advantage to 5-10. Salenga scored a two, but on the successive possession Zalgiris failed to convert any of four inside shots and by the time Bader added 2 more baskets, Krka was up 9-14. Zalgiris coach Antanas Sireika decided it was time for Big Reg. Rickert made still another basket while Sabas missed a skyhook. Duscak proved his team's shooting reputation, hitting from downtown, and Antonijevic scored again to give the guests a 16-23 lead after 10 minutes.
Krka's chances looked serious as Gilbert opened the second quarter with a triple from the corner. But then Sabonis, Misha Beric and Mindaugas Timinskas assisted Cota for three baskets in a row. Krka was now having problems in the paint, as Beard added 2 baskets and Sabas connected on a hook shot to extend the run to 11-0 and a 27-26 Zalgiris lead. Bader scored 5 points now around a three-point play by Sabonis, as Krka held onto a 30-31 lead. Timinskas would break the logjam, however, with 8 points in a new 10-2 run that put Zalgiris in charge for the first time at 40-33 after 18 minutes. Cota came on court and added to the run, and after one more Krka basket, Giedrius Gustas made a reverse layup to leave the scoreboard at 44-35 for the half.
After the break, Zalgiris used Bader to try to lure Sabonis out of the paint with three-pointers. Bader succeeded once, but at the other end Javtokas shattered the basket with a dunk. Although Sabonis, playing with fever, airballed a triple, Zalgiris took off soon on a 10-0 run highlighted by Cota's passing and a Beric three-pointer. With the hosts up now 58-42, Bader made a stand for Krka with 5 points, while 2 baskets by Cota were offset with a three from Gilbert. The game was slipping from Krka's hands even though Sabas was now sitting on the Zalgiris bench. Gilbert converted 2 free throws but Paulius Jankunas a couple baskets and Salenga 2 foul shots for the hosts. It took a triple from Jure Balazic and a jumper by Duscak to reduce the Zalgiris lead to 14 points, but Beard made a pair from the line to boost it again, to 75-59, after 30 minutes.
Beard was the Zalgiris protagonist early in the final quarter with 7 points in a row, giving his team its biggest lead to that point, 82-61. Zalgiris tried a zone defense that Balazic immediately punished with a three. Gilbert added another from deep for the guests and Duscak copied with a three-point play but the Krka defense wasn't making the stops necessary for a late comeback. After Beric and Gilbert exchanged three-pointers, a nice dunk by Salenga and a Sabonis layup made it 96-73 with 2 minutes left. The mission was accomplished for the hosts, who could now look forward to a last game of the year with a chance at holding second place.
Thursday, December 11, 2003