The challenge match at the top of Group D was everything that was expected and more on Tuesday night as Metis Varese outlasted visiting KK Zadar 88-86 in overtime. The victory gave Varese exclusive hold on first place at 5-2 while forcing Zadar down to 4-3 and what will be a tie for second after Charleroi and Caprabo Lleida, both 3-3, meet Thursday. The game came with a scoring duel between Varese's Boris Gorenc and Zadar's Marko Popovic, but accuracy at the foul line in overtime was decisive. In the absence of several regular contributors, Gorenc led Varese with 28 points. Francesco Vescovi added 20 and center Cristiano Zanus Fortes 17 more for Varese. For the guests from Zadar, Popovic topped the floor with 29 points, while Hrvoje Perincic contributeed 18, Branimir Longin 15 and Michael Meeks 12.
Varese played without injured regulars Andrea Meneghin, Rusty LaRue and Paolo Conti, but started the game with center Diego Osella on fire, scoring the first 5 points. Zadar, with Popovic and Perincic, responded to take a 7-11 advantage, however. The visitors controlled the tempo with their drive-and-dish-off style, while Popovic was unstoppable from long distance. He made all 4 of his three-point attempts in the quarter, scoring 16 points total, as Zadar rolled out an 18-26 after 10 minutes. Varese center Shawenlle Scott came off the bench for the second period to add consistency in the paint. Also, after 2 minutes, Popovic drew his third foul and was benched. Zadar was still able to use its skill from long distance, mainly through Longin and Perincic now, to earn a 22-33 lead halfway through the second quarter. Now, however, Varese's shots started to fall as its defense picked up, resulting in easier baskets in transtiion. A mid-range jumper by Gorenc would complete a 17-7 run that pulled the hosts within 39-40, and then Vescovi would score from the line for a 42-42 halftime tie. Popovic was up to 16 points and Gorenc 10 by that time.
After the half, the chilly arena started to warm up as Varese went running and reached its first slim advantage of the night, 48-44, with an easy lay up by Gorenc. The bad news for home team was that Popovic was back on the floor and his two quick mid-range jumpers, plus a shot by Perincic from behind the arc, gave a new 50-55 lead to Zadar. Vescovi and Gorenc forged another tie for Varese at 58-58, but Meeks finished the quarter with a triple good for a 61-64 edge for the guests. Offensive boards for Varese and long-distance shooting for Zadar were the keys all match, and that was true again when they reached 69-69 with 5 minutes to play. Nobody scored for 2 minutes until Gorenc gave Varese a 71-69 advantage from the foul line. But soon Perincic was scoring on a fastbreak and adding a free throw to give the lead to Zadar at 72-74 with 1 minute, 40 seconds to go. Sasa Knezevic put Varese up 75-74 but Mlacen Erjavec answered with a short jumper for a 75-76 Zadar lead. Vescovi made it 78-76 for Varese, but Meeks tied it from line again, 78-78, before Vescovi and Erjavic missed three-pointers, sending the game to OT.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002