Union Olimpija kept pace with the high fliers of Group B on Thursday by winning on the road at Zalgiris 70-81 just as the other three top teams in the group had done. The victory preserved for Olimpija (7-3) a spot within a three-way tie for second place with Barcelona and Opel Skyliners. Olimpija beat Zalgiris (3-7) on the backboards Thursday with an incredible 19-40 advantage. Haris Mujezinovic had 9 boards in 15 minutes on the floor, Tunji Awojobi the same in 26 minutes. Awojobi had 17 points and was the main contributor as Olimpija took control in the middle quarters. Jurica Golemac ended up leading the winners with 19 points while Jure Zdovc added 15, including 3 of 6 three-pointers, and Vlado Ilievski 12. For Zalgiris, Steve Woodberry finished with 19 points, Grygorij Hiznjak 13, Donatas Slanina 11 and Dainius Salenga 10. Any hope of the Lithuanian champs breaking into the coveted top four of the group were all but mathematically dashed with this loss.
There was bad news at the beginning for 4,000 fans in Kaunas who did not want to give up the hope their team still might continue for a berth among the Euroleague's Top 16. Olimpija took off to an 0-7 advantage, forcing a timeout by Zalgiris coach Algirdas Brazys. The little talk worked, however, as the Lithuanians came back on court with defense and game intensity, enough in fact to take over the scoreboard at 10-7 by the middle of the quarter. Now it was Olimpija coach Zmago Sagadin's move, and he sent out Jiri Welsch and Awojobi to increase the offensive output of his team. That worked too, as Awojobi tallied eight consecutive points to close the gap to one, 16-15. With that momentum, Olimpija pushed off to a 17-20 lead after one quarter.
It was the home team's move to start the second quarter, and Brazys tried newly-signed guard Sherman Hamilton, who delivered with a three-pointer. Sagadin put in 2.21-meter center Alexandar Radojevic against young Arturas Masiulis without a tangible effect, but Vlado Ilievski got hot shooting for the visitors even as Steve Woodberry went cold for the home team. Still, it was Awojobi who began deciding the game at this stretch. Too quick for any of his defenders, the Olimpija forward seemed to be everywhere, scoring himself, rebounding or assisting. Despite that, Hamilton's two-pointer at the end sent the teams to the locker rooms with Olimpija ahead by just two, 33-35. Still, the tempo had increased in the second quarter, which favored the visitors from Ljubljana.
With Awojobi uncontainable and Olimpija dominating the rebounds 23-10, Zalgiris need to react, and Brazys tried intensifying the defense. Olimpija answered in kind, however, and the resulting slow-down affected both teams. Zalgiris kept Olimpija off the boards now, but with good ball circulation Olimpija created opportunities for open shots. Mujezinovic and Zdovc hit from three for a 39-43 Olimpija lead, part of a 9-0 run that pushed margin to 10, 42-52 with two minutes left in the quarter. The quarter ended 43-56 with the outcome looking already predictable.
Olimpija released somewhat its defensive grip, and Woodberry's seven consecutive points reduced the gap to seven. Sagadin responded with a timeout and better defense but the margin did not change for a while as Olimpija forced added mistakes on the Lithuanians. The last hurrah for Zalgiris was a three-point play and a three-point shot by Woodberry, but those points only served to get the home team within 60-69, which was not enough, tonight, against an inspired Olimpija.
Thursday, January 10, 2002