Zalgiris Kaunas defeated Crvena Zvezda, 74-65, Friday afternoon on the second day of the 2011 Euroleague Basketball Nike International Junior tournament at Palau Sant Jordi to improve their record to 2-0 in Group B and put a foot in the door of the tournament's title game. Crvena Zvezda's record now stands at 1-1, the same as Regal FC Barcelona, who also lurches behind Zalgiris. Kaspars Vecvagars and Arturas Gudaits paced the winners with 15 points each and Marius Grigonis added 11, with Tauras Jogela tallying 10. Gudaitis also corralled 12 rebounds and Ignas Ramasaukas totaled 16. Andrija Bojiz led the way for Crvena Zvezda, with 20 points, while Ivan Marinkovic followed with 12, Stefan Pot scored 11 and Marko Radonjic totaled 10.
Jogela kicked things off with a slam on a baseline drive, as Zalgiris went on the attack mode early with Vecvagars handling the ball and Ramasaukas banging in the paint against Marinkovic. The Lithuanian team pushed the ball quickly off defensive rebounds while displaying good transition defense that handcuffed Crvena Zvezda to a halfcourt game. A pretty three-point play by Ivan Saicic gave the Serbian team some push before Tomas Dimsa dunked home a two-hander and Jogela showed off his range with a rainbow three-pointer to score it 14-10. But Crvena Zvezda displayed mental toughness throughout the period, plowing inside for high-percentage shots, and a Marinkovic dunk closed the first quarter scoring at a 19-16 advantage for Zalgiris.
As Crvena Zvezda sealed the paint and the Lithuanian side settled for perimeter shots, Simas Raupys responded to an emphatic Bojic block of an Gudaitis shot with a sweet jumper and Petar Aranitovic and Vecvagars traded triples to keep matters at 28-22 in the second quarter. With Radonjic masterfully managing the tempo and finding his teammates' preferred shooting spots, the Serbian squad kept within distance, even if Zalgiris' transition offense seemed to hit its stride midway through the period, as the half ended with a 42-32 advantage for the Lithuanians.
Crvena Zvezda came out of the break with a sense of purpose and Saicic, Radonjic and Bojic sparked a 0-6 run t start the second half that prompted Zalgiris to burn a timeout with the difference down to two possessions. Renewed defensive intensity kept the push alive, as steals and rebounds at one end translated into confident shots, and makes, at the other, and a gritty fast-break layup by Radonjic narrowed the margin to 48-45. Zalgiris stayed in front thanks to Vecvagars' timely shooting touch from long distance and second-chance opportunities, but the Serbian team battled in the paint to close out the period with a 1-7 run, and only down 55-52.
Jogela got back on the boxscore to start the final quarter capping off a nice transition assist by Vaidas Kariniauskas, and Grigonis drained a deep three-pointer to extend the lead to 60-54. With closure of the defensive glass of the essence for Zalgiris, Kariniauskas pulled down a rebound to assist Jogela on another breakaway dunk, forcing Crvena Zvezda to call timeout and regroup. With perimeter defense at full press, it took Grigonis a gorgeous driving 360 layup, plus the foul, to earn three points, though the Serbian frontcourt did not despair, with Bojic and Nikola Cvorovic setting the tone inside. But points were hard to come by for both teams, and it was Bojic who was able to close in again, scoring it 68-62 with 2 minutes to play on a gorgeous turnaround jumper. As the game seemed to slip away from Crvena Zvezda, Vecvagars beat the shot clock to drop a driving layup in a key possession and, up 70-62 with just 41 ticks left, Zalgiris effectively sealed the deal from the line.
Friday, May 6, 2011