In something of a three-point duel, Ulker nailed down its first Top 16 win of the season in Group D by beating Cibona VIP 84-77 at home in Istanbul on Wednesday. Ulker raised its record to 1-1 and will tie either with Montepaschi Siena or Maccabi for the second place in this group at the end of the week. Meanwhile, Cibona dropped to 0-2 but keeps all its hopes alive with three home games still left to play in Zagreb. Saulius Stombergas led the winners with 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting, including 5 three-pointers. Kerem Tunceri added 17 points, all but 3 of them in the second half, while Eurelijus Zukauskas dunked his way to 14 and Virginijus Praskevicius scored 10 for Ulker. The winners 13 of 25 triples on the night, while Cibona landed 12 of 28. Marko Popovic had 19 points and 7 assists for Cibona. Gerald Fitch added 18 points, Marton Bader 15 and Andrej Stimac 13, all in the first half.. A 10-0 run in the middle of the last quarter that featured 5 points by Stombergas settled the matter in Ulker's favor.
Ulker came out very affective with pressure man-to-man defense that led to fastbreaks on rebounds by Kerem Gonlum and Zukauskas. The sight of Gonlum scoring 5 quick points no doubt gave Ulker confidence after he had been taken of the court on a stretcher the previous week. Zukauskas put in Ulker's next 4 points for a solid 9-2 lead, as only Bader had found the basket so far for Cibona. By the time Tunceri and Erdogan joined the offense, Ulker had a double-digit lead, 14-4, but Bader started Cibona back with a triple and soon added 3 free throws to cut the difference to 16-10. Ulker knew things were going well as it then witnessed extremely rare back-to-back four-point plays - triples with free throws - by Stombergas and Erdogan, good for a 24-10 lead. Only a pair of late triples by Fitch and Popovic allowed Cibona as close as 26-18 after 10 minutes.
The zone defense Cibona had turned to late in the first quarter started to work well in the second. Meanwhile, Stimac played the key role in igniting the offense, hitting 2 triples and driving layup as Cibona pulled within 31-28. And he wasn't done. A couple minutes later, he was back with another triple and layup to make it 35-33. Popovic then struck from downtown for Cibona's first lead, 35-36, and Fitch followed him from the arc to complete a 0-11 run for the visitors. Then Ulker turned to zone defense and to Stombergas. His second triple of the game returned a lead to Ulker, 40-39, but Vladimir Krstic answered from the same distance to push Cibona ahead again. There were seconds left, however, and Stombergas used them to launch another three-pointer from the corner that brought joy to the home fans and a slim 43-42 advantage to Ulker at the break.
Cibona came out strong after halftime, with a dunk by Bader and 3 points by Popovic to retake the lead at 43-47. A Zukauskas dunk at that point turned out to be the only 2 points Ulker was able to score for more than 6 minutes of the third quarter. Meanwhiile, a jump shot and a three-point basket-plus-free throw by Fitch put the visitors ahead by 7 points, 45-52. Another Zukauskas dunk broke Ulker's dry spell and soon a triple by Praskevicius loosened Cibona's pressure defense. Next, Praskevicius drove for a layup that cut the lead to 3 points which Tunceri also erased with a single shot for a 57-57 tie late in the quarter. Only one other shot went in during the final 2 minutes, a high jumper by Popovic that secured a 57-59 lead for Cibona at the end of three quarters.
The last quarter started like a three-point contest, which was appropriate, because a total of 9 shots from the arc were going to fall before the buzzer. The first 4 of them fell in just two minutes and were split between both teams, with Tunceri and Praskevicius hitting for Ulker, Branimir Longin and Popovic for Cibona, leaving the guests ahead 63-65. A three-point basket-plus-foul by Stombergas got the lead back for Ulker, 66-65, but Cibona wasn't ready to give it up. Popovic got fouled on a made jumper and added the free throw to keep the guests up 68-70, but that's when Stombergas took over. His next triple and a two-point jump shot that followed sparked a decisive 10-0 burst in the middle of the final quarter as Tunceri struck from downtown and Zukauskas dunked again. Ulker led 78-70 with under 3 minutes left. When Fitch hit a triple to try to restart Cibona, however, Tunceri and Erdogan both matched him to keep Ulker on the way to its first Top 16 victory.
Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul