Zalgiris downed KK Zagreb 87-76
Zalgiris Kaunas routed KK Zagreb 87-76 to claim its third victory in four games and complete an improbable comeback to reach the Top 16. The Lithuanian champs improved to 4-6 and secured fourth place in Group B at the end of the regular season. Zagreb got off to a fast start, but came undone when leading scorer Krunoslav Simon limped off with an injury. Then Sonny Weems scored 8 in a 20-3 Zalgiris charge as the hosts took take control. A 13-2 blitz to start the second quarter made it 41-20 and Zalgiris never looked back. Zagreb did get as close at 7 in the final minutes, but Marko Popovic drilled a clutch triple to ice the win and start the celebrations. Weems paced the winners with 20 points, Popovic scored 17 on 5-of-9 three-point shooting, Paulius Jankunas tallied 12 points and 8 rebounds, Robertas Javtokas added 12 points and Mantas Kalnietis ran the offense with 9 points and 7 assists. Mario Kasun carried Zagreb with 20 points and 8 rebounds, Petar Babic netted 17 points, Sean May 15, Damir Rancic 12 and Damir Mulaomerovic 10 as the Croatian champs finished their debut Euroleague campaign with a 2-8 record.
Rancic stunned the packed house in Kaunas with a basket in the opening seconds followed by a steal and layup. Javtokas slammed home an offensive rebound to score the hosts’ first points. Simon limped off after less than two minutes with an apparent ankle injury, but it didn’t phase Petar Babic, whose triple made it 2-7. Vytenis Lipkevicius answered from downtown and soon Kalnietis’s perfect lob pass set Sonny Weems up for an alley-oop slam to tie the score at 9-9. Kalnietis’s next dish set Javtokas up for a slam and Zalgiris’s first lead. Weems hit a jumper to cap an 8-0 run, but May connected from downtown to keep Zagreb close. Weems hit back from mid range, Jankunas sank a triple and DeJuan Collins pulled up and banked in a jumper for a 20-12 Zalgiris lead. Tadas Kilmavicius tacked on another triple as the hosts looked to bury Zagreb. May countered with a triple and Mulaomerovic made it 25-16 from the line. But Collins hit another bomb as the hosts took a 28-18 lead after 10 minutes.
Popovic got the shooter’s roll on a three to open quarter No. 2. Kalnietis upped the lead to 15 before Mulaomerovic made a backdoor layup. The Zalgiris attack kept firing with 5 points from Jankunas and then a Weems three that put the hosts up 41-20. Zalgiris took its foot off the gas, but Zagreb did not take advantage with a Babic free throw the only point over the next several minutes. Javtokas and May traded baskets inside and Kasun scored his first point from the line, but a Popovic triple extended the lead to 22. Kasun added a layup and Mulaomerovic’s penetration closed the gap to 46-29 at the break.
Mulaomerovic and Kasun scored early in the third as Zagreb tried to battle back into the game. Mulaomerovic sank another jumper to close the gap to 48-35. However Weems scored from the line, Popovic from behind the arc and the lead was soon back up to 21. Rancic hit a three for his for basket since the opening minute, but Zalgiris answered through free throws from Jankunas and Collins to get to 60-41. Popovic sliced the Zagreb zone defense with a great pass to Jankunas to put the difference at 20. Ante Masic dished a fine lob to Kasun, who dunked and tried to assert himself on offense. A Kasun slam trimmed the difference to 64-48. Jankunas’s follow basket and Rancic free throws left it at 66-50 through three quarters.
Weems’s triple to open the fourth quarter kept the home team rolling. Kasun teamed with Babic to mount a mini-run and claw Zagreb within 71-59. A Popovic triple seemed to right the ship, but May managed to bring his team even closer, 74-64. Kalnietis hit from outside as the hosts tried to shake Zagreb for good. Milovan Rakovic stretched the lead to 15 from the line. But a Babic triple ignited one last Zagreb run. A May basket-plus-foul in transition brought the visitors within 79-72 with three minutes remaining. Weems turned a Zagreb turnover into a made free throw. And Tomas Delininkaitis scored his first points of the game with a jumper in the lane to put the hosts ahead by 10. And Popovic nailed his fifth three of the night with 43 seconds left to put his team up 13 and essentially ice the win.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011