KK Zagreb hit first in the Group A matchup of the Euroleague Basketball Nike International Junior Tournament in Barcelona by downing INSEP, 76-65, in their first matchup of the tournament. Dario Saric led Zagreb with 19 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks in a brilliant offensive and defensive display, while Mario Hezonja also scored 19 and added 10 boards, with Dominik Mavra and Marko Milekic contributing 16 and 11 points, respectively. For INSEP, Hugo Invernizzi scored a game-high 24 points and Livio Jean-Charles emerged as a force at both ends as well, finishing with 22 points, while big man Mouhammad Jaiteh recorded 10 points and 11 rebounds.
INSEP pushed the ball early with Jean-Charles active on the glass and John Benjamin running the show, while playmaker Mavra looked to set up Saric in Zagreb's halfcourt offense. The all-purpose forward scored it 7-8 on pretty spinning drive to the hoop, and sparked a Zagreb 13-0 run by swishing a three-pointer from the top of the key that was followed by another from Invernizzi. INSEP finally answered with its own long-range bomb through Jean-Charles, who then added a transition dunk and three-point play to tighten the scoring difference at 23-16 by the end of the first.
The French side tightened the defense to start the second quarter, trying to impose a faster pace in transition, and the paced quickened, though it was Hezonja who burned INSEP on a transition dunk to score it 27-18. As perimeter makes were hard to come by, the rebounding battle thickened. Jean-.Charles finally swished a corner jumper and followed with another make from the elbow to make it a two-possession game before Saric answered with an outside shot of his own and Mavra nailed a triple, as Zagreb reached the half on top, 40-30.
As Jaiteh got active in the paint for INSEP and Jean-Charles kept aggressive, the French team closed in to 42-35. But Saric then found Hezonja for a triple on a kickback and proceeded to up his one-on-one showdown with Jean-Charles at both ends of the floor in the third quarter, with both players hitting on a variety of high-level shots and playing gritty defense. In an attempt to make keep up the push in the final period, INSEP toughed out the third quarter battle, 13-15, reaching the final 10 minutes only down by 53-45.
A couple of layups by Jean-Charles and Jaiteh kept INSEP down by 6 points while Zagreb plowed through by getting to the line and converting. As defenses adjusted, the rhythm slowed down and the physical battle intensified for every loose ball. Saric traded a nifty tear drop with an Invernizzi triple, as Zagreb stayed in the driver's seat with 3:30 left to play, 66-58. Invernizzi hit again from long range on a second-chance look to make it 66-61 with 2:30 left, but Antonijo Kraljic stepped up on a baseline drive to swish a jumper and Saric emphatically blocked a Benjamin attempt before converting a couple of free throws and dropping a runner to soften the cushion for Zagreb, up 72-63 with just under 20 ticks left on the clock. Saric then effectively seal the deal with a crosscourt assist on a Hezonja dunk.
Thursday, May 5, 2011