In a duel between teams already qualified for the Top 16 from Group A, Efes Pilsen kept pushing for first place with a commanding 57-72 road win at Real Madrid on Wednesday. The game was close throughout but Efes managed to pull away in the last quarter by shutting down Madrid's offense. Its big men were decisive for Efes as Niksa Prkacin led the winners with 23 points while Ermal Kuqo posted 16 points and 8 rebounds. Henry Domercant and Ender Arslan added 10 points each for Efes. For Real Madrid, Alberto Herreros scored 12 points, including 3 of 5 triples, while Antonio Bueno and Louis Bullock had 11 each. Efes raised its record to 10-2 and can take over first place if Climamio Bologna loses on the road at Cibona VIP on Thursday. Real Madrid drops to 7-5 and will wait for the result of the same game to know if it shares third place or falls to fourth.
A nifty jumper by Goran Nikolic and a three-point play by Kuqo put Efes ahead 0-5 right after tipoff. With only a free throw by Felipe Reyes to answer, the hosts still trailed but showed good ideas in the paint, managing to force Nikolic to the bench with 3 fouls in as many minutes. A drive by Elmer Bennett with no opposition soon tied the game again, 5-5 and Mous Sonko copied him for the first Madrid lead, 7-5. An inside battle between Reyes and Kuqo was joined by Prkacin, whose free throws got Efes within 11-9. Soon, however, Herreros landed first triple for a 14-9 Madrid edge. The game continued at the free throw line with 17 total attempts in the first quarter, but Herreros stepped up for another jumper to finish it with Madrid ahead 17-13.
Efes leading scorer Willie Solomon appeared finally to open the second quarter and Prkacin copied him to bring the guests within 19-17. Bueno, armed with self-confidence, nailed a five-meter jumper to revive Madrid, but the Efes defense was already taking over, and after Solomon's first triple, the guests were within 22-20. Madrid changed to zone defense to stop the Efes big men but Prkacin still scored 6 points to push the guests ahead 24-26. Herreros was on fire, however, and traded triples with Solomon. Efes ruled the paint but Herreros kept raining threes to keep Madrid within 30-33. Finally, free throws by Arslan extended the Efes lead and sent the teams to the lockerrooms looking at a 30-37 scoreboard.
Bullock, who rested most of the first half, blasted a triple to start the second. Prkacin continued on form, reaching his 15th point, while Nikolic returned with a basket to make it 35-41. Madrid suffered several turnovers now, and even when the ball reached its destination, the rock-steady Efes defense made sure it didn't go through the net. Mickael Gelabale eventually scored twice from the foul line, but Arslan replied with an open triple for a 37-44 score. Bueno was now the go-to guy for Madrid, and Bullock added a three-point play on an acrobatic shot to pull his team within 42-44. After Nikolic sat with his fourth foul, a free throw by Reyes cut the difference to 43-44. Prkacin beat Madrid's zone for a hook shot, but Bennett did him one better, beating the 24-second clock with a triple from the left corner that tied it up, 48-48 in minute 28. Henry Domercant scored his first basket from the arc but Bueno replied from the paint to close the third quarter with Efes clinging to a a 50-51 edge.
Bullock started the last quarter in the same fashion he did with the third, with a fast triple for a 53-51 Madrid lead. Arslan and Bullock traded baskets but it was Domercant whose 4 straight points, including a triple, put Efes in charge again, 55-59. The Efes defense now smothered the hosts while Prkacin reached 20 points by putting his team up 55-63. Antonis Fotsis managed to score fast now, but offensive rebounds allowed Efes to control the clock. A technical foul on Bennett cost his team 2 points, after which Efes led 57-65 with 3 minutes to go. Kuqo knew hot to seal a long play of Efes for the first double-digit lead of the night, 57-67. And if that wasn't enough, Prkacin scored again for 57-69. Arslan finished a 0-9 game-closing run at the free throw line and Efes kept its first-place possibilities, not to mention its defensive reputation, together against a tough opponent on the road.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Carlos Gil, Madrid