Lietuvos Rytas defeated Cibona 77-94
Lietuvos Rytas crashed into the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Top 16 with a 77-94 victory over Cibona Zagreb on Thursday night in the Croatian capital. The Lithuanian champs completed a strong finish to the regular season and overtook Cholet Basket for fourth place in Group C on the final day of the regular season when the French champs lost at Fenerbahce Ulker. Both teams finished with 4-6 records, but L. Rytas advanced with the better head-to-head record. Kenan Bajramovic matched his career-high with 22 points and added 9 rebounds to pace the winners. Khalid El-Amin scored 20 and dished 5 assists, Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 13, Steponas Babrauskas 11 and Martynas Gecevicius 10. Bojan Bogdanovic completed a breakout season by matching his Euroleague career high with 28 points, but finished second in the scoring race despite an 18 points per game average. Tomislav Zubcic added 17 points and 8 rebounds, Rok Stipcevic scored 12 and Jure Lalic had 10 for Cibona, which finished its Euroleague campaign without a win.
Early minutes gave a hint of a high-scoring affair with a steal, an assist and a driving lay-up by Goran Vrbanc on one side, and mid-range jumpers by Cemal Nalga and El-Amin on the other side. Stipcevic made a three-pointer that gave Cibona a 9-4 lead after two-and-a-half minutes, but Babrauskas answered right back with a triple of its own. Milko Bjelica added a dunk as well as Nalga after a perfectly executed transition to give the visitors their first lead, 11-13 after five minutes. However, Cibona quickly answered twice inside with Lalic and Zubcic to retake the lead and continue a seesaw battle. Nalga and Bjelica tied the game twice more before Zubcic hit a triple. Still, the visitors finished the first quarter up 20-21 thanks to Bajramovic driving layup.
Bajramovic helped Lietuvos Rytas open up the lead in the second quarter with a three-point play and Babrauskas and Jasikevicius extended the advantage to 22-28. The visitors used the absence of big man Leon Radosevic in the paint and dominated on the offensive boards in the second quarter. On the other side, Bogdanovic single-handedly kept Cibona close, scoring 7 of the team’s first 9 points in the quarter. A Jasikevicius three-pointer gave L. Rytas its biggest lead of the half, 29-36 after with four minutes left till the break, but Bogdanovic and Vrbanc answered with back-to-back triples to bring Cibona within 35-36. After a timeout by L. Rytas head coach Aleksandar Trifunovic, Bajramovic scored from behind the arc against Cibona’s zone defense, and El-Amin did the same a minute later. The only points Cibona managed to score in the last three minutes of the quarter were 2 free throws by Karlo Vragovic, and El-Amin’s jumper with a buzzer gave Lietuvos Rytas a 37-44 lead at the half.
In the opening two minutes of the third quarter, Brad Newley and Bajramovic scored layups while being fouled for a 42-51 lead. Vrbanc made a three-pointer, but Jasikevicius answered with a basket-plus-free-throw situation of his own before one-handed slam-dunk by high-flying Zubcic started an 11-2 run by the hosts. Another three-point play, this time by Zubcic, cut the lead to 51-54 after, and then back to back steals by Vrbanc and Bogdanovic led to easy layups for Cibona to tie the game at 56-56 after midway through the quarter. Bajramovic and Martynas Gecevicius made sure Cibona did not take the lead. L. Rytas stayed in front even though Bogdanovic kept pouring in his shots from all over the floor. Jasikevicius and Stipcevic traded three-pointers in the final minute of the quarter and the visitors took 64-67 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Babrauskas’s three-point shot got a lucky bounce at the beginning of the fourth quarter and it turned out to be a start of a 2-13 run. Babrauskas followed up with a lay-up, and then on the next three possessions Gecevicius added a three-pointer and El-Amin a jumper and a three-pointer to open up a 66-80 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Stipcevic stopped the run with a three-pointer, but shortly after El-Amin was fouled behind the three-point line and he made all 3 free throws. When Gecevicius hit a jump-shot on the next possession to extend L/ Rytas lead to 71-89, it was a sign for the visiting bench to start celebrating.
Thursday, December 23, 2010