The suprise team of the new season in what many regard as the toughest group is none other than Union Olimpija of Slovenia. Olimpija lifted its Group B record to 3-1 on Thursday with a compelling 73-81 road win at Zalgiris in Kaunas. Its second road win in as many tries victory puts Olimpija in exclusive company right behind undefeated Tau Ceramica, who only beat the Slovenians by a couple baskets. In Kaunas on Thursday, Olimpija was trailing early until veteran guard Roberts Stelmahers jumped off the bench and turned things around. Olimpija did not trail after the early second quarter and put the game away with a 2-12 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters. Jasmin Hukic, also coming off the bench, was the big gun for Olimpija with 16 points. Stelmahers added 15 and 6 assists, Josko Poljak a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Vladimir Ilievski another 14 points. Zalgiris, whose record fell to 1-3, got 14 points from Gintaras Einikis, 13 points and 14 rebounds from Kornel David, 13 more points from Saulius Stombergas and 12 from Dainius Salenga.
Both teams missed shots early, so after 3 minutes the teams are tied 4-4. The game tempo is slow and that should be to the benefit of the hosts since the Slovenians are renowned for their running game. After a triple by |Saulius Stombergas and a steal for two by Chris Carrawell and two FTs plus a twopointer by Kornel David, Zalgiris takes a first substantial lead with less than five to go in the period, 16-9. That quickly turned into a 11-0 run and a 18-9 advantage as Carrawell got a bucket, David hit 4 consecutive points and Einikis scored again. That's when Stelmahers climbed off the bench for Olimpija, however, and soon he and Ilievski were working together to change the momentum. Within a couple minutes, Ilievski dropped on triple and Stelmahers two, the second of which tied the game 22-22. But Stelmahers had another basket left in him before 10 minutes were up, completing Olimpija turnaround on the scoreboard with a 22-24 lead.
Zalgiris regained the lead quickly by going inside to 216-centimeter 18-year-old ceter Darius Silinskis, who scored the first 4 points to make it 26-24. As the Zalgiris defense switched its focus outside, however, Josko Poljak got involved in Olimpija's offense early in the second quarter, and his 3 baskets in 5 minutes helped the visitors increase their lead to 29-33. Zalgiris called timeout to talk about it, but things got worse for the locals. Jasmic Hukic now joined the fun for Olimpija, with 2 free throws and 2 triples, while in between, Poljak knocked down three. The lead was growing by the second it seemed, to 33-43, and the quietness of the Zalgiris scorers was getting deafening. Some relief for the home crowd came as Stombergas re-emerged to score the last two baskets of the quarter. Perhaps more importantly, the Zalgiris defense held up for a couple minutes without breaking as the deficit was cut to a manageable 37-43. Stombergas and DAvid had 9 points for the home team, Einikis 7. Hukic and Stelmahers, with 8 points and 2 threes each, led Olimpija.
Stombergas picked up where he left off, with 2 free throws to make it 39-43, but soon Stelmahers was assisting Boisa on a layup and Ilievski was knocking down a three as the Olimpija lead swelled to 39-48. Now Einikis got back in the flow for Zalgiris with 4 inside points, but Boisa did the same at the other end, but the Olimpija lead lowered to 47-53. A tense end of the quarter saw an inside shot by David pull Zalgiris within 4 points, at 51-55, but there was Stelmakers to make his mark at the end. Sandwiched around a short shot by Stombergas, the Olimpija guard scored on a three-point play and two free throws that closed the quarter with Olimpija having added one point to its halftime lead, 53-60.
If the home crowd was waiting for one last push from its team, it got just the opposite. It was Olimpija who came out in the fourth quarter and put the game away with an 0-7 run that boosted the lead clear into double digits. Dujmovic started it with a layup, Hukic stepped up for another big three, and Goran Jurak hit a shot inside before Zalgiris know what had happened. The lead was 53-67. It was all Zalgiris could do to cut it down to 10 points, 61-71, before Hukic landed the game-finisher from downtown for 61-74 with 3 minutes left. That game him 4 good triples in 7 tries, leading the visitors to 9 of 22 for the game, compared to 4 of 12 for Zalgiris. Outshooting a Lithuanian team on its own court is explanation enough for the victory and Olimpija's status in the standings.
Thursday, October 31, 2002