One of the finest seasons by any team in European basketball history reached another goal on Thursday when CSKA defeated Ulker 64-82 in Istanbul, Turkey, to become the first 2005 Final Four qualifier. CSKA will now play the Final Four at home in Moscow from May 6 to 8, with its first date being a semifinal game against the winner of the quarterfinal series between Benetton Treviso and Tau Ceramica. CSKA had little trouble sweeping its best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoff series with Ulker 2-0 over a span of 48 hours. On Thursday, a 1-11 run near halftime sent CSKA to leads that never fell below double digits the rest of the way. J.R. Holden, David Andersen and Marcus Brown led CSKA with 14 points each, while Dimos Dikoudis added 13. Brown dished 8 assists while Andersen pulled 9 rebounds. Ulker got 17 points from Saulius Stombergas and a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds from Eurelijus Zukauskas, but its fourth loss of the season to CSKA was helped along by 6-for-25 three-point shooting. CSKA ran its record this season to a remarkable 21-1 despite not having point guard Theodoros Papaloukas, who is expected to be out with injury for 10 days.
With new starters Tutku Acik at point guard and Virginijus Praskevicius at forward, Ulker started well, taking a 7-2 lead. Acik had a layup, Stombergas a triple and Zukauskas a layup in just 2 minutes. CSKA answered immediately by going inside, where Andersen put in 3 shots in a couple minutes, and then Dimos Dikoudis dunked for the visitors' first lead, 9-10. CSKA was also putting Ulker in foul trouble with penetrations that saddled Erdogan and Stombergas with their second fouls after 7 minutes. Stombergas didn't let CSKA run away, hitting his second triple among 5 consecutive points that kept Ulker within 15-16. But Andersen with a jumper and Holden with a steal and layup helped CSKA finish the quarter by pushing the lead to a high so far of 15-20. Andersen had 10 points and Stombergas 8 already.
Brown opened the second quarter by pushing the lead to 15-23 with a triple. Ulker responded well on defense, while a three-point play by Kerem Gonlum and Erdogan's first basket, a triple, got the hosts within 21-23. CSKA didn't wait long to pull away again. The visitors increased the defensive pressure on Ulker and got fastbreak opportunities that Dikoudis, Sergei Monya and Aleksey Savrasenko cashed in on for a 23-30 lead. Ulker got within 30-34 again after Kerem Tunceri scored 5 points in a row, including an exchange of triples with Brown. Then, however, CSKA finished the quarter, and with it the series, with a final burst before the break. Bench players Martin Muursepp and Sergei Monya were the catalysts. Muursepp followed free throws with a spectacular pair of dunks, while Monya slammed also among his 2 baskets and Holden fired in a triple. Only a triple by Tunceri on the buzzer showed Ulker was alive as CSKA led 34-47 at the break.
Ulker started the third quarter looking inside to Zukauskas for a few points to attempt a comeback, but when Brown buried a triple and 2 free throws by the 24th minute, the CSKA lead had grown to 17 points, 37-54. Stombergas, Dusan Vukcevic and Acik trimmed the deficit for Ulker midway through the quarter, but after free throws by Andersen, the lead was back to 15 points, 44-59. Stombergas made free throws and a jumper while Zukauskas scored inside to bring the difference to the brink of single digits, at 51-61, but Holden had time to add free throws at the end of Ulker's best quarter yet and preserve a 51-63 lead for CSKA.
A slow, almost scoreless start to the final quarter didn't favor an Ulker comeback, but with a basket by Erdogan, the hosts were again within 10 points, 55-65. Ulker had started zone pressure that seemed to slow CSKA, but the superiority of the visitors on rebounds reduced all of Ulker's possessions to single shot attempts. Antonio Granger left no doubt about the outcome when he made a three-point play in the middle of the quarter and followed it with a corner shot from the arc to boost CSKA's lead to 55-71. Ulker's poor three-point shooting ruled out a miracle comeback as Savrasenko's jumper soon gave CSKA the biggest lead of the game, 18 points at 62-80. CSKA by then could finally enjoy the prospect of playing the Final Four at home in Moscow.
Thursday, April 7, 2005