Another record-setting performance by Arvydas Sabonis gave Zalgiris Kaunas a rare and coveted road win, 73-85 at Ulker in Istanbul, in the Group G opener for both teams. Concentrating his scoring in the first and last quarters, Sabonis finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists for the highest index rating ever, 47, in a Top 16 game. Tanoka Beard added 18 points and 7 rebounds for the winners, while Giedrius Gustas scored 17 off the bench and Ed Cota popped for 10 more points. Zalgiris outrebounded Ulker 41-27 and dished 24 assists - including 5 by Mindaugas Timinskas - to just 12 for the hosts. Despite 14-for-29 three-point shooting, Ulker dropped to 0-1. Petar Naumoski and Ibrahim Kutluay scored 21 points each for Ulker, including 9 triples between them, while Efthimios Rentzias drilled 5 more from downtown en route to 15 points. Joseph Blair added a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds.
Sabonis did not wait to answer whether he was in form to match the huge expectations surrounding him. He scored 12 points in just the first 6 minutes, popping a pair of three-pointers over Blair. The first made it 6-11 for Zalgiris, and after an exchange of layups between the centers, Naumoski popped his second triple to make it 11-13. Sabonis answered from downtown, but he was only part of the three-point display. Kutluay had already made one, and now he was ready to add 2 more triples, in between which Cota hit a rare one. The score was 17-19 after 7 minutes, and Sabonis went to the bench for a breather. Blair took advantage with 3 points and Naumoski drilled his third three-pointer so far, but Cota and Gustas had baskets to help Zalgiris hold a 25-26 lead after 10 minutes.
Ulker started the second quarter strong, with back-to-back triples from - who else? - Kutluay and Naumoski en route to a six-point lead, 32-26 after 12 minutes. Zalgiris now used its two big guys, Sabonis and Beard, together in attempts to make double trouble for Ulker. This was the right choice for Zalgiris, but Ulker center Efthimios Rentzias joined Kutluay and Naumoski in the triples contest, launching in two of his own from downtown as the hosts extended their lead to eight points, 42-34, after 16 minutes. Beard started the Zalgiris reaction by putting back an offensive rebound, and after a pair of layups by Timinskas, finished an 0-8 run with a dunk that tied the scoreboard, 42-42. Less than 2 minutes were left until the half, and in that time, Blair was the only person to score, putting up 3 points that let Ulker reach the lockers ahead by 45-42.
Rentzias started the third period with a three-pointer, then another, and was followed both times by Naumoski making shorter jumpers to give the home team what seemed to be a comfortable 11-point lead, 55-44, after 22 minutes. Ulker had 12 three-pointers then, but few more bombs would come. Meanwhile, Zalgiris went to work with a 0-7 run that featured a triple and free throws by Gustas. The Zalgiris defense now stopped Ulker from scoring for nearly five minutes. Dainius Salenga added to the run with a layup that brought Zalgiris within 55-53, but then Rentzias buried his fifth three-pointer to make it 58-53. Cota and Beard got baskets down before the quarter ended, but Kerem Gonlum added 2 free throws to keep Ulker ahead 60-58 after 30 minutes.
Beard sent a message by opening the final quarter with a dunk, and before the first minute was over, Gustas made a jumper that gave Zalgiris a lead at 60-62. Naumoski traded baskets with Beard and Sabonis to keep Ulker in the game at 65-66. But then Sabonis and Gustas scored in succession for a 65-70 Zalgiris edge. Ulker played zone defense for the rest of the match, but Gustas hurt it with a three-pointer that boosted the lead to 67-75 with under 5 minutes to play. Ulker tried to catch Zalgiris with early attempts for three-pointers, but those didn't work and when Sabonis hit free throws in the 38th minute, the lead was in double digits, 67-77. A Salenga dunk in the last minute extended the visitors' lead to 12 points, which is where it also stood at the finish, a good margin for Zalgiris to hold in case of future ties.
Thursday, March 4, 2004