CSKA of Moscow strengthened its grip on the Group C lead Thursday with a huge downto-the-wire 83-85 road win against Virtus in Bologna. J.R. Holden calmly sank a pair of free throws with 8 seconds left and then young Victor Khryapa blocked a game-tying shot attempt at the buzzer by Ruslan Avleev of Virtus. The victory was all the more impressive because CSKA lost the services of its top scorer, forward Darius Songaila, when he suffered a knee injury in the opening minute. CSKA's record now soars to 6-1, a full 2 victories over second-place Ulker, while Virtus falls to 3-3 and a tie for third place with Adecco Asvel and Real Madrid. Holden led the winners with 21 points, while Nikos Hatzivrettas and Chris Gatling put up 19 each. Derrick Dial had 25 points for Virtus, Avleev 16, Charlie Bell 15, Alessandro Frosini 12 and David Andersen 10.
Bad news arrived for CSKA at the very beginning, as the team's leading scorer this season, Songaila, was injured after only 58 seconds, clutching his knee after giving some defensive help. Aleksandar Bashminov and Chris Gatling came on for CSKA, which chose to double-team Ruslan Avleev in the low post, which denied Virtus a lead in the first minutes. CSKA took the first important advantage at 7-10 after 3 minutes, but was then outscored 7-0 by Virtus, 5 of those off the hand of Bell, as the hosts went ahead 14-10. Both teams took advantage of offensive rebounds to get second shots, and the scoreboard was balanced until minute 9, when Virtus got 6 points in a row from Derrick Dial to post a 25-19 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Thanks to Gatling, CSKA came back and tied the score after 2 minutes in the second quarter, 27-27. Virtus stayed ahead with a couple baskets by Avleev, driving inside, but CSKA started opening the court with Sergei Panov in the lineup using many pick-and-roll situations. Panov gave the visitors back the lead, 31-32, with a triple, which was copied in turn by his teammate, Sergei Monya, to make it 31-35. Virtus hung on by the margin of Dial's points, 16 at halftime, as one of his three-pointers cut the deficit to 34-35. But that's when Holden lit up and replied in kind to make it 34-38 CSKA. Virtus looked for offensive alternatives to Dial, and found a good on in David Andersen, who had an interesting duel with Gatling. Andersen scored 6 key points working the low post, including the fade at the buzzer that gave back Virtus a small, two-point advante, 46-44, at the half.
The game remained balanced throughout the third quarter, with both teams alternating small leads. CSKA stayed with its pick-and-roll offense to push ahead by 4 points, 58-54. Virtus came back and re-took the lead at 62-63 thanks to good scoring by Avleev, who was also playing tough on the boards. CSKA also played some flex offense, and with Holden and Nikos Hatzivrettas getting good shots from it went back up by one basket, 64-66, after three quarters.
CSKA put its signature on the scoreboard with a 9-0 run to open the final quarter as Holden and Hatzivrettas gave the guests a double-digit lead, 64-75, with 4 minutes remaining. Virtus tried to come back with Dial and Alessandro Frosini, as CSKA would score just 2 points over 3 minutes. Step by step, Virtus came forward in the free throw lottery, first to 76-81, then to 78-81 on Andersen's pair of foul shots. CSKA coach Dusan Ivkovic lined up guard Theodoros Papaloukas for the last 3 minutes, as CSKA was leading 83-80. But too many missed free throws of CSKA allowed Virtus a potential game-tying possession. Bell took the responsability for the three-pointer and made it, for an 83-83 tie with 10 seconds to go, but suddenly fouled Holden CSKA's point guard went to the line with 8 seconds to go and made both free throws for 83-85. Virtus had the match ball in hand, but Bell missed this triple. Avleev grabbed the rebound but a huge block by Victor Khryapa gave CSKA the win, 83-85.
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Daniele Baiesi, Bologna