Krka by 16 over Joventut!
The littlest country in the competition is walking tall into the ULEB Cup finals tonight after Krka Novo Mesto rallied in the second half Tuesday to a thrilling 82-66 semifinals victory against visiting DKV Joventut of Spain. Krka needed every point of that final margin to overcome Joventut's 13-point victory in the first game and bring the finals to Slovenia. Krka will play the winner between two more Spanish teams, Adecco Estudiantes and Pamesa Valencia, who decide their semifinal series on Wednesday night. Trailing by 2 points at intermission, Krka started the surge to victory with a 10-0 run coming out of the locker room, but a defense that limited Joventut to 21 points the rest of the way was decisive. Jamie Arnold led the winners with 21 points. Slavko Duscak and Marko Maravic added 14 each and Aleksandar Capin 13, including key free throws down the stretch. For Joventut, Zan Tabak had 17 points before fouling out late in the game and Nikola Radulovic added 16.
Nervousness was apparent as both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket in the early going. Joventut controlled the defensive boards but was unsuccessful in the offensive end. Krka looked first to Jamie Arnold, but Bader managed to force Zan Tabak's first foul and hit the first point, and Aleksandar Capin added a triple for 4-0 local lead. Nikola Radulovic replied soon from the 6.25 line, however, and that broke the ice, as Arnold and Tabak exchanged inside baskets. Krka suffered the first foul trouble, with Arnold committing his second, but in this do-or-die atmosphere, he stayed on the court. Joventut's defense refused Krka's penetrations and translated a couple into steals and fastbreaks, one of which Carles Marco finished for an 8-8 tie. Paco Vazquez committed a second foul for Joventut, as did Slavko Duscak and Marko Maravic for Krka. Despite his own foul trouble and Joventut's defensive double-teams, Arnold was warming up. His layup put Krka up 14-12, but Vazquez put Joventut back in front 14-15 with a triple and Radulovic slammed home a steal for 14-17. Krka struggled to dictate the tempo as Joventut played with calm. Even though Arnold scored again, Joventut got the final basket and led 18-21 after 10 minutes.
The second period started with Maravic making a three-point play to tie the score 21-21 for Krka. Boris Gnjidic committed consecutive fouls, but Maravic soon nailed a go-ahead triple for 24-21. Bader's intimidation in the lane prevented Joventut's big men from playing comfortably, while at the other end Krka found second and even third options. But neither team stood above the other nor pulled away on the scoreboard. Antonio Bueno scored on an offensive rebound to give Joventut a new lead, 24-25. Maravic answered with another three, but Marco matched him on the following play. The score read 32-33 in minute 15, reflecting the dynamic action at that moment. When Joventut changed to a zone defense, Bader punished it with another triple to tie at 35-35. Marco's leadership on offense lifted Joventut to small but constant leads. Dragisa Drobnjak had to leave the court injured after Tabak's tip-in made it 38-41. Zendon Hamilton now entered to boost Joventut underneath, but Gnjidic's triple from the side pulled Krka within 43-45 just in time for the half.
After intermission is when Krka made its move by sending out a small lineup with the 2.02-meter Arnold as the big man. The immediate result was a 10-0 run that turned the game around. Arnold got it started, but then Capin and Gnjidic made it to Joventut's basket twice each. It all happened within a couple minutes, by the end of which the guests were solidly ahead, 53-45, and more confident with each possession. Tabak calmed the situation a bit for Joventut by finding 6 straight points under the rim, but Krka continued finding enough easy baskets to maintain a 60-51 lead. Now, Tabak's three-point gave only a little air to a Joventut team that struggled to keep up with Krka. Gnjidic was fouled out in minute 28, but it didn't seem to matter much as Capin took his turn from downtown to earn Krka a double-digit advantage, 65-55. Joventut wasn't able to score, and Arnold's long-range jumper put Krka 12 points ahead and lit up the crowd that packed the arena. The guests tried the zone defense, but it was completely useless as Krka nailed triple after triple. With 40 seconds left in the quarter, it was 70-58 Krka. It took a pair of free throws by Juan Alberto Espil just for Joventut to cut that deficit to 10 points, 70-60, after 30 minutes.
The decisive final period started with a turnover for Joventut, its 13th of the night, as Radulovic committed his fourth foul. Drobnjak was back on court to make it 72-60 for Krka, and on the following play, Tabak's offensive foul, also his fourth, made things easier for the Slovenian team. Veteran point guard Rafa Jofresa stepped on court to try to calm Joventut, but it seemed there was only one team out there as Arnold landed the crucial three-pointer that made it 75-60. That marked Krka's first lead big enough to send it to the finals. Thanks to Radulovic and Tabak, Joventut managed not to sink too completely, but Krka's defense in the lane forced Joventut to see 24-second possessions expire. Despite its clear superiority, however, Krka didn't manage to sentence the series because it started missing triples with the scoreboard stuck on 75-62 and less than 5 minutes to go. After Joventut got 2 points back, again it was Arnold who came up big, with another three-pointer that made it 78-64. Duscak now committed his fifth foul for Krka, but with 1 minute, 30 seconds left, Radulovic missed a clear layup and Tabak fouled out for Joventut. Both teams found it hard to score as the pressure mounted. Arnold had a steal but slipped and was called for travelling, giving Joventut another chance, but Espil missed from downtown and Jofresa committed a quick foul. Capin scored only 1 of 2 free throws, and Espil replied with a quick layup to make it 79-66, a tie series with 18 seconds left. But after being fouled again, the young Capin scored both free throws this time, and at 81-66 Krka had the points it needed. On Joventut's next possession, Jofresa was called for charging, a turnover, and Arnold went to the free throw line for the final insurance point. Even with a triple, Joventut could only tie the series, but Drobnjak's quick foul impeded Joventut trying one. This series belonged to Krka and its fans, who poured out of the stands in jubilation to celebrate.
Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Jernej Tisu, Novo Mesto