Joventut stops Krka underneath!
Size mattered in a big way when DKV Joventut stopped visiting Krka Novo Mesto 82-69 on Tuesday to strike the first blow in their two-game ULEB Cup semifinal. A crowd of 11,000 fans were on hand to watch as Joventut turned a close game into a somewhat comfortable lead to take to Novo Mesto for the final game next week. Besides making up points, Krka will have to figure out how to make up for lack of size. Although veteran Juan Alberto Espil shot flawlessly to lead all scorers with 23 points, the Joventut frontline ruled the night and owned the backboards. Joventut outrebounded Krka 40-26 overall, with bigger margins earlier in the game. Zan Tabak led the way with 16 points and 10 rebunds. Antonio Bueno was right behind with 15 points and 8 rebounds, while Nikola Radulovic had 12 and 9 respectively. Krka was led in scoring by Jamie Arnold with 21 points, but after him few of the visiting forwards or centers managed to score. Aleksandar Capin and Marko Maravic added 13 each for Krka, and Boris Gnjidic 11.
The first plays of the game showed didn't hint at the avalanche of points to come until 5 consecutive points by Capin put Krka ahead 5-9. Arnold would turn out to be the best man for the guests on offense in the quarter, while Joventut missed Tabak's points in the paint, as the center had no baskets in the first period. Joventut was able to tie at 13-13 as Carles Marco took the ball coast-to-coast for a fastbreak layup. Joventut mixed its defenses, while Krka relied on a a tight man-to-man. Joventut managed to overcome that a couple more times to take a three-point lead, 19-16. Nikola Radulovic earned the hosts a six-point lead for 28-22 that looked like a first breakaway for Joventut. But it wasn't that at all. Krka responded in sudden fashion with a 0-7 blitz, featuring 3 points by Marko Maravic and a triple by Slavko Duscak, to seize a 28-29 lead at the end of 10 minutes.
Just as suddenly, however, things changed again at the start of the second quarter. Joventut started to run with the ball and crash the offensive rebounds aggressively. The change in attitude was good for a 10-0 run to open the quarter with a flip of the scorebard to 38-29. Juan Espil scored and distributed the ball to Tabak in the paint, and the veteran center's points now came steadily. On the other side. Krka relied on isolated baskets by Boris Gnjidic and Duscak from the 6.25 line. The guests were overwhelmed by the inside game of Joventut, and Espil hit the long-range jumper for the first double-digit lead of the game, 45-34. One stat at that point said it all: Joventut was making 73% of its two-point shots while Krka was down at 37%. A last triple by Gnjidic was answered by Tabak's offensive rebound to beat the halftime buzzer with Joventut leading by 11 points, 48-37.
The second half started with Krka improving on defense, which allowed the guests to pull within 48-41 first and 51-46 later thanks to a basket by Maravic to seal a 3-9 run. Both sides started to commit mistakes as the game went on. Joventut coach Manel Comas changed his defense to a zone once the guests started reaching the basket going one-on-one. Tabak scored again inside before another triple from the side by Paco Vazquez bumped the lead into double digits again, 58-46. Arnold took control of Krka's offense now with 6 straight points, and Gnjidic added another jumper for 61-54. Espil managed an easy fastbreak, but with 1 minute to go, Capin hit again from downtown for 63-57. The fans pushed hard but it wasn't enough for Joventut to pull away and were rewarded when Marco hit a long-range buzzer-beater for a 66-57 lead after 30 minutes.
Krka started the decisive period with Arnold on bench due to his fourth foul, and soon enough, Duscak was joining him with the same amount. Krka coach Neven Spahija put Dragisa Drobnjak on court, but Joventut's defense was working fine against anyone, even though the hosts wasted some of their own offensive opportunities with turnovers as Krka's defense tightened to the task. Drobnjak would finally hit Krka's first basket in the quarter after 4 minutes, but Joventut still led 70-59. Joventut got to the free throw line now, with Antonio Bueno hitting a shot 72-61. When Drobnjak scored on an offensive rebound to knock the lead down to single digits, Espil answered by nailing another triple to make it 75-63. Then he hit a pair of free throws for Joventut's maximum lead, 77-63, before Arnold returned with 5 consecutive points that set the scoreboard at 78-68. Three consecutive fouls by Tabak allowed Krka to earn the free throw bonus, and Drobnjak made one for 78-69. In the last minute, Joventut had time to score 4 more points from the line, split between Radulovic and Espil, and thereby earn 13 points to defend when the two teams meet again next week in Slovenia.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003