DKV Joventut led by as many as 25 points before finishing with an 80-66 victory over visiting FMP Zeleznik
Joventut of Badalona arrived to the ULEB Cup quarterfinals like a house on fire Tuesday and turned on the heat for a commanding 80-66 victory over dangerous Zeleznik of Yugoslavia in the first of their two-game series. With inspired three-point shooting by veteran Juan Alberto Espil, who made 5 shots from the arc in the second quarter alone, Joventut led by as many as 25 in the first half. Zeleznik spent the last 20 minutes trimming that deficit to the final 14 points it will have to make up at home in Belgrade next week if it wants to advance. Espil finished with 29 points for the winners, making 6 of 8 triples altogether and 9 of 10 free throws. Nikola Radulovic added 17 points for the winners, including 2 triples, and Paco Vazquez 16 with 3 more from the arc. All told, Joventut made 12 of 22 threes (55%) and barely needed its front line to score. Zeleznik was led by Goran Nikolic with 19 points. Reggie Freeman added 13, Ognjen Askrabic 12 and Ivan Zoroski 11.
Joventut couldn't have started the game any better. Almost from the moment that Paco Vazquez drilled the first shot from the corner, everything went right for the home team. Ognjen Askrabic made his first shot inside for Zeleznik, but from there the visitors spiralled downward. Joventut looked inside to Tabak for a pair of baskets, Radulovic for another. Then, after Zeleznik spent its first timeout, Vazquez lifted a shot from the same corner for another triple to make it 13-2. Goran Nikolic got 2 points back for Zeleznik, but in general the visitors were getting every shot challenged and the misses were collected by Joventut, mainly Radulovic, who now hit a jumper and a dunk-plus-free throw. Vazques stole and dunked next and Radulovic added two foul shots. It was 22-4 and all Zeleznik could do was press on until a three-pointer by Reggie Freeman fell before the quarter ended 26-11 for Joventut.
Hard to believe, but the best was yet to come for the home fans of Joventut. After Zeleznik got a basket to start the second quarter, Espil raised up for his first three-point attempt, which rattled around the rim before dropping through. It was an omen. For the rest of the quarter, Joventut would hit nothing but three-pointers, but enough of them to actually increase the lead before halftime. Zeleznik was scoring more now, struggling to keep up with inside shots. Nothing came easy for the visitors, not even at the free throw line, where they missed 5 of 6 at this juncture. Meanwhile, as Zeleznik tried a zone defense, Radulovic stood open twice on the arc and Espil once again for a trio of new three-pointers that made it 38-20. And Espil was not finished. Three more times in the final minutes he broke free from whatever pursuit Zeleznik offered and let go from downtown. Boom, boom, boom! All three went through. He had made 5 of 6 threes for the half and had 17 points, while Radulovic was up to 15. Juventut was ahead by an incrdible 22 points, 47-25, and Zeleznik had 20 minutes to get back in the series somehow.
Zeleznik tried to come back to life after the break by going to their aces inside. Nikolic and Askrabic got position and drew fouls during a 0-7 run to start the quarter and knock the score down to a semi-respectable 47-32. But Espil was soon the one drawing the fouls, and his free throws were as sure as his three-pointers. He hit 6 for 6 at the line before Juventut scored its first field goal. And when he, Radoluvic and Antonio Bueno made baskets in succession in the middle of the quarter, the lead was back in the heavens at 62-37. Zeleznik was racing against hte clock again, and with a 2-10 run to close the quarter had the deficit back down to 17 points at 64-57.
The fourth quarter was all about margins, Joventut trying to maintain the high ones it earned early in the game, Zeleznik trying to go back to Belgrade with the least amount to make up in the second-leg match. The visitors got a three-pointer from Freeman and two foul shots from Mirsolav Markovic to make it 64-52, as close as they had been since the opening minutes. But then Espil appeared in the corner for his sixth triple, and a minute later Vazquez did the same from the opposite corner, his third from downtown, and the lead was 70-54. It was all Zeleznik could do to get 2 more points off before leaving town with a big task on its hands next week.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003