Cibona VIP shook off the departure of one of its top players to reach the Top 16 from Group A with a major 81-87 road win over Adecco Estudiantes in Madrid on Wednesday. Just a couple hours after power forward Andrija Zizic, back in Zagreb, agreed to leave the team for Winthertur FC Barcelona, Cibona forgot all about it and grabbed its ticket to the Top 16 with a thrilling victory in Madrid while hitting 17 of 41 three-pointers, one short of Euroleague record for shots made from the arc. Cibona improves its record to 7-4 in Group A, while Estudiantes dropped to 3-8 and must win on the road next week at Prokom Trefl Sopot to survive. Gerald Fitch and Josip Vrankovic led the way for Cibona with 19 points. Vrankovic buried 5 of 8 triples. Branimir Longin bagged 14 points and Marton Bader added 10 for the winners. Estudiantes, who rallied in the second half with three teenagers, was led by Sergio Rodriguez with 22 points and 7 assists. Hernan Jasen added 14 points, Ruben Garces 12 and Carlos Suarez 10.
A basket in traffic by Carlos Jimenez opened the scoring for Estudiantes, as everyone waited to see how Cibona would play without Zizic, who announced earlier in the day that he was leaving the club. Rodriguez ran the hosts to a 4-2 lead before Marko Popovic and Vrankovic found open triples for a 5-8 Cibona lead. After Rodriguez and Fitch traded points, Jasen found a fast triple for Estudiantes as the game turned to a three-point shootout. Fitch hit twice from the arc and Rodriguez once as Cibona stayed ahead 13-17. A fast 5-0 run for the hosts earned them a new lead at 18-17 when Jasen put back an offensive rebound. Estudiantes changed to a 3-2 zone and the resulting turnovers pushed the hosts further in front, 21-17. Bader broke the spell for Cibona, but Estudiantes kept running for a Rodriguez-to-Jimenez fastbreak before Popovic found Damir Omerhodzic in the corner for a triple that hit nothing but net and cut the difference to 26-24 after 10 minutes.
A new Rodriguez assist for Suarez opened the second quarter, but Cibona moved the ball well to find Fitch open for a new triple and Bader slammed to tie 32-32. Vrankovic buried Cibona's seventh triple and Bader was unstoppable under the rim as the guests surged ahead 32-37. Estudiantes struggled now on offense as Cibona stopped the attack four attacks in a row and Branimir Longin blasted a new triple for a maximum lead so far, 32-40. Garces saved a bad situation on the 24-second clock as Popovic missed 3 three-pointers in a row on too-fast attacks. However, Longin and Andrej Stimac did not miss as Cibona roared ahead 39-48 at the break having hit 10 of 22 triples at that point.
Jasen broke a scoring drought with a bank shot almost 3 minutes into the second half. Bader finally scored Cibona's first basket after two offensive rebounds, and soon Omerhodzic posted the first double-digit lead at 41-52. Vrankovic stepped up for a new triple as despite tight defense. As Cibona seemed always to get to the basket, Garces kep Estudiantes alive with 6 straight points, the last after a no-look assist by Rodriguez on a fastbreak. Jimenez had a big steal to earn his team a hard-fought basket, but Cibona didn't panic and Vladimer Krstic buried a new triple to make it 50-58. Estudiantes had momentum, however, after a Juan Ignacio Jasen triple and an easy Garces layup cut the difference all the way down to 55-58. Iker Iturbe missed a triple to tie but Vrankovic didn't, and his shot from downtown left Cibona leading 55-61 after 30 minutes.
Stimac opened the last period with Cibona 14th triple, but Suarez scored 6 points in a row to pull Estudiantes within 61-64. Estudiantes was playing with three youngsters under 20 now, Rodriguez, Suarez and the younger Jasen. A new fastbreak by Rodriguez made it a one-point game, 63-64. The Estudiantes run progressed to 9-0 when Rodriguez blasted a triple that sent Palacio Vistalegre into a frenzy and put Estudiantes 66-64. Cibona insisted on triples but its percentage was not the same now. Fitch finally decided to drive to the basket and tied 66-66 in minute 34. The hosts looked inside now as Rafa Vidaurreta hit 4 straight points but Vrankovic replied with a new Cibona triple, 70-69. Free throws by Fitch took the lead back for Cibona, 70-71. Popovic and Stimac were soon adding triples for a 70-77 Cibona edge, but Rodriguez showed his pride with a new triple that made it 75-79 with 90 seconds to go. After a series of free throws, Rodriguez brought the house down again with a three-point play to tie again, 80-80. Popovic and Rodriguez traded a free throw each for 81-81 and Cibona had the ball with 16 seconds to go. After a couple misses, Longin drove for a layup and extra free throw to make it 81-84 and 6.5 seconds left. Estudiantes lost the next possession on a turnover and Cibona walked off a difficult court having earned its way into the Top 16.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005