Opel Skyliners has taken one step closer to the cherished Top 16 by holding serve at home in Frankfurt on Thursday by 84-75 despite being tailed closely until late in the game by visiting Zalgiris Kaunas. The victory raised Skyliners' Group B record to 8-3, good for a deserved share of second place with just three games left to play. Already having their best European campaign ever, Opel raised its chances of reaching the elite by turning back several rallies. Zalgiris (3-8) lost even the most outside mathematical chance for survival, but once again showed what it can do when its shooters are on. Having been limited to 36 points through the middle of the third quarter, Zalgiris zoomed back on the strength of its fine shooting to within 64-63 with 6 minutes left in the game. Now it was Opel's turn to reassert itself with a 13-6 run led by Chad Austin and Robert Maras that led to a 77-71 lead after which Zalgiris would only score four more points.
Both teams started slow in the first quarter with Kaunas applying early pressure to Opel guard Pascal Roller. Kaunas took the early lead at 4-9 after just four minutes and took advantage of some poor defense by the Frankfurt squad. Opel out-fouled their guests 5 to 1 in that span which showed just how much the nerves were affecting the hosts. Marcus Goree and Virgil Stanescu revitalized their team and got Frankfurt back to within just two at 12-14 at the quarter break.
The Opel Skyliners got their first lead of the game on a nice spin-move by Marcus Goree, which made the score 19-18 three minutes into the second quarter. Kaunas meanwhile was not impressed and kept on scoring. Center Grygorij Hizhjak swatted out three blocks all against Marcus Goree but picked up three fouls as well, and was taken off the court. Two three-pointers by Austin and Alexander Lokhmanchuck brought the score to 29-23 three minutes before the half, and a couple of free-throws later made the score 34-25 for the hosts after finishing the half on a 14-2 run.
At the beginning of the third quarter it looked even better for Frankfurt when Austin and Lokhmanchuk combined for another one-two punch combination of three-pointers. Just five minutes into the period the game seemed decided when Kai Nürnberger stole the ball from Steve Woodberry and passed it to Austin who gave Frankfurt a comfortable 52-34 lead. Kaunas decided to shake things up and completely altered their game strategy. They changed their defense and began to use a full-court press. Frankfurt couldn't react to the changes. They began to turn the ball over and saw Kaunas rally back to close within three points at 54-51 after an 17-2 run. Austin began to wake up and ended the quarter with another three-pointer that made it 57-51 going into the final period.
In the fourth quarter, Kaunas continued using the press and suddenly took the lead after just two minutes. Things started to look bad for Frankfurt after Stanescu and Lokhmanchuck each received their 5th foul and had to leave the game, but now Chad Austin stepped up again and made some incredible shots over center Khizhnyak. With just three minutes to go before the end, Kaunas was only down by one 72-71, but it was then when they began to lose control as Robert Maras grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds for easy tip-ins. Several free-throws later by Pascal Roller sealed the victory for Frankfurt as they went on to win by a final of 84-75.
Thursday, January 17, 2002
Holger Werner, Frankfurt