Adecco Asvel Basket may be sixth on the standings list in Group D, but it is only one victory away from first place and very much alive this Wendesday night. Asvel shook off some must-win jitters on its home floor to turn back last-place Oostende of Belgium 89-76 and raise its record to 6-5, good for a fourth-place tie with Ural Great and Partizan Belgrade. A third-quarter that finished 23-9 broke the game open for the home team. A dominant Nikola Vujcic, who finished with 23 points, preserved the victory even as Oostende 1-10 came within three points in the final five minutes. Harold Mrazek and Kyle Hill added 14 points each for the winners. Ed Cota led Oostende with 15 points, followed by a trio of 14-point scorers, Virginius Praskevicius, Ralph Biggs and Teo Cizmic.
Relying on numerous offensive rebounds and mixed defenses, Oostende started the game perfectly, taking a 2-9 lead in three minutes behind 7 points from Praskevicius. With a smart Ed Cota as playmaker, Oostende even forced a Boscia Tanjevic timeout after a beautiful Ed Cota-Ralph Biggs alley-oop connection made it 4-15 after five minutes. In came Nikola Vujcic, David Frigout and Kyle Hill, who had been on the bench until that time, and they immediately took the game in hand with a 11-0 run that restored the scoreboard to 15-17 and calmed the nerves of the home gans. They also drew a second foul on Praskevicius. All the same, Oostende reacted too, again with offensive rebounds, and ended the quarter on a 7-0 run to go ahead at 15-24, more than they might have wished for before tipoff.
Hill's shooting exhibition for Asvel threatened to erase the visitors' big lead, but again Oostende was up to the challenge, calmly digging in for its biggest lead yet, 24-38 after 15 minutes, with big man Teo Cizmic detonating two huge three-pointers among his 11 points in the quarter. A flagrant foul on Vujcic added to Asvel's woes. So did Cota, whom Asvel considered hiring months ago, as he gave a clinic of playmaking, slicing the French defense with ease to dish flash passes. Asvel finally went into a zone, which was just what the doctor ordered to managed to cut the Oostende lead to just six, 42-48. Cizmic (11), Praskevicius (11) and Biggs (10) were already in double-figures for the Belgian club, while Asvel was saved by 25 points from the bench between Hill (11), Vujcic (9), Frigout and Harold Mrazek.
With four on it starters on the bench (Tim Nees, Amara Sy, John Celestand, Yann Bonato), Asvel began the second half on a better defensive basis. Switching on every pick, with Mrazek efficiently guarding Cota, Asvel forced two straight shot clock violations by Oostende. Getting the ball inside to Vujcic for the early points, Asvel took the advantage on a Mrazek three that made it 50-49 after just three minutes. But that 8-1 run was just the start, for Asvel and for Mrazek. The Swiss guard (11 points in the quarter) took fire and buried two more long-distance shots to push Asvel ahead 58-51 after seven minutes. That meant a 16-3 run for the French club, which eventually won the third quarter 23 to 9 and went into the final quarter with a 65-57 advantage to work with.
Oostende refused to let that advantage grow, and indeed trimmed it by forcing turnovers that led to one-on-one breaks and a 70-65 scoreboard in the 34th minute. Then Cizmic appeared beyond the arc again, making Asvel pay for its choice to switch to a zone defence by making it 71-68 with 5 minutes to play. But with Praskevicius fouled out a minute later, Vujcic made the paint his own and scored seven straight points for an 80-72 lead with 3 minutes left that put Asvel in the clear for the all-important victory.
Wednesday, January 16, 2002