With a 99-84 Group D home win over Cibona Zagreb of Croatia, Asvel of France preserved its chance to qualify for the second round of the Euroleague on Thursday. For Cibona (5-8), who could not rely on Zoran Planinic and Josip Sesar, injured and sick, respectively, the Euroleague season is over. Nikola Radulovic being absent for this game, Asvel relied on a very good Yann Bonato, who scored 21 points in the first half as the home team established solid leads. Kyle Hill was the big gun, however, coming off the bench to score 25 points in the game, and hitting 5 of 7 three-pointers he attempted. Bonato was right behind with 22 points and Nikola Vujcic added 14 for the winners. Cibona had the top scorer in Marijan Mance with 26 points among five players in double figures. Niksa Prkacin added 13, Barisa Crasic 12, Calvin Bowman and Darko Krunic 10 each.
Asvel could not rely on Nikola Radulovic, who was back in Italy for personal reasons, but Cibona's latest scoring ace, Josip Sesar, did not play because of a flu, and neither did Zoran Planinic, who is still injured. What would be the consequences of these absences? Both teams started pretty well, settling into an efficient offensive game that saw them tied 11-11 after 5 minutes. That's when Marijan Mance began to show that he could compensate for Sesar's absence. Mance, who would reel off 11 points in the quarter, got Cibona ahead 14-18, but then Nikola Vujcic and Kyle Hill entered the game. Hill seconded the scoring of Yann Bonato, who had 9 points in the quarter, to give Asvel a three-point lead, 21-18, but Cibona was able to come back and tie it 22-22 after 10 minutes.
The second quarter started with an outstanding performance by Bonato, who did not hesitate to take Radulovic's usual shots. After 13 minutes, the French forward had already scored 16 points and his team was ahead 35-26. More than this, Bonato kept on doing everything on the court. He finished the first half with 21 points and the gap went up to a high of 19 points, 45-26, midway through that second quarter. Cibona, though, managed to preserve its chance thanks to Marijan Mance (16 points in the half) and Branimir Longin (two consecutive three-pointers) notably. With their help, the deficit at the half was shaved to 11, 55-44.
Asvel coach Bogdan Tanjevic decided to put the young Amara Sy in its five for the third quarter, which turned out to be a contestable decision since Cibona took advantage of the lack of experience of Sy to cut the lead to just 6 points, at 59-53, in just four minutes. Vujcic's number was called again, and in front of his fellow Croatian opponents, Vujcic answered with class. Helped with an accurate Kyle Hill (22 points after three quarters), Vujcic restored a 13-point Asvel lead, 79-66, after 30 minutes.
From the start of the game, John Celestand, Asvel's point guard, was dishing one assist after another, and he did not stop in the last quarter, sending Amara Sy for a dunk to give a 14-point advantage to his team, 84-70, which looked decisive. Simon Petrov then put the icing on the cake with 8 points in the quarter, and Asvel was already looking ahead to a final game and a possible trip to the Top 16.
Wednesday, February 6, 2002
Fabien Friconnet, France