Showing that its pride went well beyond its chances to go further in the competition, Cibona VIP fought until the last seconds for its first Top 16 win on Thursday, getting a dramatic layup with 3 seconds left to beat Olympiacos in Athens by 68-70. Marko Popovic, who joined Cibona just before the Top 16, was the author of the game-winning shot, a reverse layup as the 24-second clock expired. Cibona raised its Group D record to 1-4, tying Olympiacos. Andrija Zizic led the winners with 19 points and 7 rebounds, while Popovic added 15 and Marijan Mance 13. For Olympiacos, Panagiotis Liadelis had 19 points, Dalibor Bagaric 16 and Ruben Wolkowysky 11.
Without the pressure of a "must" win, Olympiacos and Cibona tried to play as free as they could and offer a pleasant game to the Greek fans. The Croatian club escaped with an early 6-9 lead due to consecutive points by Marijan Mance. Scoring 10 points with open shots and lay ups, Mance helped Cibona finish the first period with a 13-19 lead. Olympiacos was not prepared to play its normally hard defense. Its own Croatian player, center Dalibor Bagaric, was the only oasis in the Reds' desert, scoring 7 points on some spectacular dunks that the crowd enjoyed.
Olympiacos was not willing to surrender that early. Liadelis scored 8 points during the second period, while Ruben Wolkowyski came off the bench hot, hitting a three-pointer and scoring 6 more points under the boards. The Reds managed to take a 27-26 lead midway through the second quarter and played even better in the remaining 5 minutes to finally enter the locker room with a 39-31 lead. Meanwhile, Cibona had used its inside strength, as Andrija Zizic scored 9 points, all in the second period.
Cibona did not give up, however. From the very first moment of the third period, the Croatians played hard and came back to tie on free throws by Davor Kus late in the quarter. Zizic kept doing a good job under the boards, scoring 7 more points, while Popovic hit a big three-pointer to help Cibona climb within 53-50 at the end of 30 minutes.
Popovic became hotter during the last period, when Cibona came back to take a 62-66 lead with 3 minutes to go. A pair of threes by Popocic and two more by Matej Mamic and Andrej Stimac lifted Cibona to that point, but Olympiacos was still there, cutting the margin at 67-68 with free throws by Boris Gorenc and a huge three by Liadelis, a minute before the final buzzer. Cibona missed and Gorenc then split a pair of free throws to tie it at 68-68 with 30 seconds to go. Popovic was there again for Cibona, however. Just 3 seconds before the end of the dramatic game, and exactly on the 24-second buzzer, he drove to the basket and hit a reverse layup over Bagaric's outstretched hands.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens