Winterthur FC Barcelona made a thrilling comeback in Kaunas on Thursday night to defeat Zalgiris by a single point, 80-81, and practically assure its qualification from Group B to the Top 16. Barcelona was behind by 10 points entering the final quarter, but used a 2-19 run to turn the game in its favor. Zalgiris had 15 seconds to make its last play, but Robert Pack missed a layup and Ainars Bagatskis a triple to let the guests escape with the win. Barcelona improves to 7-4 in Group B and retains sole possession of second place with three regular season games remaining. Zalgiris drops to 5-6 for at least a share of fifth place and more battles ahead. Juan Carlos Navarro led five Barca players in double digits with 19 points. Dejan Bodiroga and Gregor Fucka added 13 apiece, Roberto Dueñas had most of his 12 in the last quarter, and Devin Davis posted a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds. For the hosts, Darius Salenga was the game's best scorer with 22 points, including 4 of 7 triples. Robert Pack posted 20 points, while Tanoka Beard had 14 and 9 rebounds.
Only a layup by Mindaugas Timinskas fell for either team in the first 2 minutes. Then Beard and Salenga rifled in back-to-back triples around the first shot made for Barcelona, as well a three-pointer, by Bodiroga. The aggressive play of Devin Davis forced Beard's second foul, while Bodiroga added a jumper and Navarro a fastbreak layup to cut the difference to 8-7. Salenga showed he was hot by drilling in his second triple then, to which Darjus Lavrinovic added a put-back in his first seconds on-court. The Zalgiris crowd went crazy after Ginevicius fed Salenga for an impressive dunk, but soon Bodiroga score 4 points in a row to give Barcelona a 16-17 lead. Navarro would add 5 points consecutively before the quarter ended with Barcelona holding a 20-22 edge.
Salenga started the second quarter with a coast-to-coast Salenga's dunk play and an assist on a layup by Martynas Andriuskevicius that gave Zalgiris the lead back, 24-22. Barcelona got the message and answered with aggressive offence as Bodiroga, Vlado Ilievski, Roger Grimau and Davis put the guests back in front, 26-30. Barcelona's defense kept Beard scoreless as Grimau and Fucka extended the visitors' run to 1-10 and the lead to 27-34. Again, Salenga stopped the Zalgiris slide with another dunk, but it wasn't until Timinskis and Rober Pack appeared for back-to-back triples late in the quarter that the hosts could breath easy again and make it to the half just 2 points behind, 37-39.
Zalgiris made its move in the third quarter, starting with Beard's basket to tie. He and Timinskas tied twice more before Pack finally posted a Zalgiris lead with a layup. Beard was aggressive on both ends now, rebounding and scoring a three-point play that boosted the hosts to a 50-45 advantage. Barcelona seemed off its rhythm while Pack added another basket to the lead. Roberto Dueñas put a jumper down for the guests, but suddenly Salenga and Ainars Bagatskis were finishing a 13-2 run for the hosts with triples from the arc that charged up the crowd and left an 11-point lead, 58-47. When Barcelona got the difference back down to 9 points, Salenga was there with yet another triple, this one from 7 meters, to leave Zalgiris looking good at 63-53 after 30 minutes.
A Dueñas tap-in got Barcelona going in the fourth quarter, and then Victor Sada banged in a triple to make it a new game, 63-58. Navarro and Pack were soon exchanging three-pointers, maintaining a nine-point difference at 70-61, but during the next couple minutes, only Dueñas scored, on 4 free throws, and forced Beard's fourth foul. When Navarro copied him and Dueñas scored a basket inside, Barcelona had a 2-9 run and was within 70-69. Zalgiris's offensive problems continued as Fucka finally took the lead back for Barcelona at 72-75 on a hook and a dunk in successive possessions. Zalgiris looked to veteran shooter Bagatskis, but before he made a triple, Fucka had extended Barcelona's run to 2-19. When Timinskas made 1 of 2 free throws, the visitors' lead was at 76-80 with 2.30 to go. Against one of Europe's top-scoring teams on its own floor, that didn't seem much, but Zalgiris had to wait until the final minute for baskets by Beard and Pack to make it 80-81. Zalgiris had the ball during last 15 seconds but good defense by Barcelona allowed it to leave the court as a comeback winner and an almost-sure Top 16 team.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
Antanas Pakula, Kaunas