Group C winner CSKA Moscow clinched the best record of the Euroleague regular season by taking a 73-84 road win over Idea Slask on Thursday. With the victory, the Russian powerhouse finally blew Slask's last mathematical chances for Top 16. CSKA finished 12-2 and will head one of the four new groups in the Top 16. Slask had to settle for seventh place at 5-9. The game was equal until the halftime break, but then the Moscow team used its great defense to build double-digit leads that Slask had trouble even approaching. Darius Songaila led the winners with 20 points, while J. R. Holden added 19, including 16 in the first half. Victor Aleksander had 16 and Alexander Bashminov 10, while only two Slask's players scored in double figures - Sean Colson with 13 and Maciej Zielinski with 12.
Before the game Idea still had theoretical ideas of making the Top 16, but rather nobody believed in it too seriously. After Pau-Orthez won in Group A on Wednesday, Idea needed to beat CSKA by at least a gap of 28 points and to count on losses from Montepaschi, Adecco Asvel and Zalgiris simultaneousl. Anyway, the Polish champions started the game really well. In the fourth minute it was 7-11 following Songaila's basket, but then Idea scored 12 consecutive points, including two bombs from downtown. Acie Earl dominated the defensive boards and Aleksander from middle distanse. Slask's whole starting lineup was on fire. CSKA retook control of the game thanks to Holden, who quickly dropped 2 three-pointers, but Zielinski answered with his second and Slask led 25-19 after 10 minutes.
The gap increased again to 8 points after Aleksandar Kul made 2 attempts from the line for 27-19, but than Holden took the ball in his hands again. He showed real leadership that by itself refused to let Slask build any more of a lead. Still, defense was CSKA's main weapon again. Slask point guards had huge problems with Moscow's defense and then the guests took the led again following easy points from fastbreaks. Idea couldn't get the ball inside, so the only way was outside shooting. Pawel Wiekiera and Dainius Adomaitis scored bombs from a downtowm on three consecutive possesions and Idea led again 38-32. But CSKA then had a 0-7 run, thanks in large part to back-up center Bashminov, who scored 8 points in the period. Earl's free throws closed the quarter with the board showing 41-39 for Slask.
In the second quarter Idea survived CSKA's great defense with outside shooting, but in the third one it could not continue so hot. CSKA maintained its agressive fullcourt defens, but the Polish champions still led in the 25th minute, 45-43. That would be their last lead. Holden then made his fourth three-pointer of the evening and his only basket in the second half, and CSKA took the controll of the game for good behind Songaila and bench spark Sergie Monya, who scored 5 points in this part of the game. After his three-pointer, CSKA led 58-50. The Russians were slowly extending the gap to a high of 12 points as Slask was losing the ball even despite three-on-one fastbreaks. The home team made just two baskets from the field in the quarter including Andrius Giedraitis's layup to close the period 52-62.
CSKA dominated both boards thanks mainly to Songaila and Alexander, who made 5 of 5 shots in this stretch of game. After a poor start he finall find the way above Aleksander Kul's hands. Additionally, Slask's center was fouled out with 7 minutes to go. In the minute 33 CSKA led 55-70. Slask tried to diminish the gap by three-pointers. Colson and Wiekiera made one each, but Slask the closest the hosts got was 7 points, 65-72, in minute 36. Now CSKA put in another 5 straight points and with that even the night's outcome was clear. CSKA was going forward as the best team of the season so far, while Idea Slask was staying home to think about how to do things like their guests someday.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Andrzej Jaworski, Wroclaw