Barca's Kuric, Delaney overpower Zenit
FC Barcelona got its third straight win by defeating Zenit St Petersburg 90-72 at Palau Blaugrana on Thursday night. The hosts used a monster offensive performance in the second quarter, in which they outscored Zenit 32-14, to build a 20-point lead and never looked back. Barca improved to 16-6 to stay second alongside CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid, while Zenit dropped to 7-15. Kyle Kuric and Malcolm Delaney led Barcelona with 21 points each on an almost perfect shooting night from the former, with 5-of-6 three-pointers, followed by Nikola Mirotic with 15 points in just 17 minutes. Andrew Albicy scored 16 points and Gustavo Ayon posted a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds in defeat.
Zenit got an early 2-4 lead behind a couple of inside buckets from Ayon, but Barcelona reacted quickly with a 10-0 run behind three-pointers from Victor Claver and Mirotic to take charge at 12-4. Ayon kept rocking, as he scored his team’s first 7 points until Will Thomas took over with a triple to make it 15-10. Even though Delaney contributed later with 4 points of its own for Barcelona, Zenit had already found its momentum on offense. Being dominant on the offensive glass, Zenit found Albicy from downtown to tie the game, 21-21, at the end of the first quarter. The visitor’s reaction came to its end when Kuric decided to take over. He scored all his team’s points in a 9-0 run in just 2 minutes to put Barcelona in front 30-21. Kuric’s amazing second-quarter display didn’t finish there, as he added his third and fourth triples later to build a double-digit lead, 42-38, right before he took a breath with 4 minutes to halftime. Nonetheless, Zenit's struggles didn’t end when Kuric went out, as Delaney took over with 8 points in a row. Mirotic joined the party later to set a 53-31 advantage for the hosts with a corner three, right before Tim Abromaitis and Albicy reduced it to 53-35 at the break.
The trend didn’t change when the game restarted, as Thomas Heurtel made his first three-pointer of the season after his long-term injury and Mirotic made it 65-42 with 7 points of its own in a 5-minute span. Zenit hadn’t said its last word, however, as Ayon and Abromaitis combined for a 0-9 run that brought some hope to the visitors. Barcelona reacted immediately then, finding timely triples by Heurtel, Claver and Kuric to recover a 20-point lead, 74-54, entering the last quarter. Zenit tried to look for a miracle by switching defenses, but it never got closer than 14 points, and when it did, Barcelona responded strongly from downtown with Delaney and Alex Abrines to remove all doubts about the outcome.
Kuric, once again
Barcelona guard Kyle Kuric played for Zenit in the 2017-18 season, when he was the EuroCup Top 16 MVP and an All-EuroCup Second Team selection. In their previous encounter in Round 2, Kuric led his team with 24 points on 4-of-4 three-point shooting and he did it again in Round 22 by posting 21 points, including 5-of-6 from downtown.
After a slow start, Zenit used its offensive rebounding power to tie the game at the end of the first quarter, but it couldn’t prevent Barcelona from escaping in the second. Nine points in a row by Kyle Kuric set the tone for Barcelona in the first 2 minutes before Malcolm Delaney took over later when Kuric needed to rest. The former ended up scoring 15 points in that second quarter, while the latter added another 12 of his own to boost the hosts to a 32-14 stretch.
It feels good to be back
Thomas Huertel hadn’t played a single EuroLeague game this season after getting injured last summer. His long-awaited comeback was more than remarkable, as he scored 8 points and dished 7 assists in just 18 minutes.
In Round 23 next week will see Barcelona stay in Spain to play a road game against Valencia Basket on Wednesday, February 5. Zenit St Petersburg will host Fenerbahce BEKO Istanbul the same day.
Thursday, January 30, 2020