AEK of Athens shook off injury to its own starting center and the arrival of a legend at that position for visiting Cibona Zagreb to come away with a high-pressure 72-69 home win in Group D on Wednesday. Having led for most of 25 minutes by double digits, AEK finally had to make its own comeback at the end after being briefly overtaken by Cibona. But the Greeks club was able lift its record to 5-2, second best in the group, largely through a career night by Demos Dikoudis, who scored 30 points, including the go-ahead three-pointer and a game-clinchin final free throw. Though injured center Andrew Betts was missed, forward Mikalis Kakiouzis made a surprise start after his own health problems (major tooth surgery) and joined with Demos Dikoudis and J.R. Holden to stake big early leads. With Jasmin Repesa on the bench, Josip Sesar in the starting lineup and Dino Radja taking over the middle, Cibona roared back with an 0-12 third-quarter run but could not avoid its fifth loss in six games and fell to 2-4. Radja didn't start, but by halftime was leading his new team in scoring. Sesar led the comeback and finished with a team-high 15 points.
In the first eight minutes of the game, Radja was sitting on the bench while Demos Dikoudis scored 10 points helping AEK take an 11-point lead early at first quarter (17-6). Holden was spectacular with 7 points while Kakiouzis, who started the game, added 6. Radja made two free throws in his two minutes playing time, while Josip Sesar, Nikola Prkacin and Calvin Bowman had 4 points each. Cibona¿s defense was very weak though, that¿s why AEK finished the first quarter leading by 10 points, 27-17.
Nothing changed during the second period, which was a total disaster offensively for both teams. AEK managed to score only 13 points and Cibona, with Radja and talented point guard Zoran Planinic in the court, managed only 12 points in 10 minutes! Dikoudis lead the scorers after the first half with 14 points and Holden had 11 for AEK. Radja seemed to warm up when the second quarter started, making some difficult shots which recalled the superstar from the past. He went to the lockerroom having scored 8 points, not enough to reach AEK. After 20 minutes the Greek team still led by double digits, 40-29, without playing incredible basketball.
After a sleepy first 25 minutes, when AEK was still leading by 13 points, 52-39, Cibona woke up, hitting 12 straight points and turning the game on its head. With no answer from AEK, the deficit was closed to a single point, 52-51, two minutes before the end of third period. Sesar and newcoming point guard Branimir Longin scored the crucial three-points shots to chop the margin, but their compatriot Arjan Komazec answered from the three-point line too, giving AEK some fresh air to breathe. The score after 30 minutes was 57-53 and the gym was hot again, as Cibona was back for good.
Proving that he can play incredible basketball with new coach Repesa, Sesar hit five points in a row to give Cibona a 57-61 lead 7 minutes before the finish. Reggie Freeman signed up with his own big three in the same period. Cibona's lead hit five points, 58-63, with five minutes to go, while AEK seemed frozen, missing many free throws and scoring only two points in almost 6 minutes! They managed to stop Cibona shots though, and Kakiouzis tied the game with 2:00 to go by making four straight free throws (65-65). Radja and Sesar didn¿t find the way to the basket and a Dikoudis three-pointer gave AEK 68-65 edge. But the game was not over yet! Boris Dzidic tied the game with a huge three-pointer coming from nowhere. A minute was left and victory was totally was up for grabs. Two Kakiouzis foul shots made it 70-68, then Freeman missed a three-pointer. Dikoudis missed two free throws, but Holden took the offensive rebound and hit one of two after he was fouled (71-68, 12 seconds to go). Mamic then missed two free throws, and Sesar missed on of two, leaving the man of the game, Dikoudis, to seal it at the end with his own foul shot and a career-high 30 points.
Wednesday, December 5, 2001
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens