Zalgiris Kaunas overcame some key abscenses by thrashing previously undefeated Benetton Treviso 88-70 at home in Kaunas, Lithuania in Group A on Thursday. Both teams now share a three-way tie atop the Group A standings along with Tau Ceramica, all with 3-1 records. Larry Ayuso led the winners with 19 points on 4 of 8 triples. Darjus Lavrinovic and Reggie Freeman each added 18 points for the winners, Paulius Jankunas 12 on 6-for-9 shooting, while Ed Cota scored 10 points and dished 7 assists. Zalgiris played again without star big man Tanoka Beard, who was joined on the sidelines by guard Vidas Ginevicius. Petar Popovic led Benetton with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting while Uros Slokar and Drew Nicholas each had 11 for the guests. Zalgiris had a strong start, as Cota and Jankunas pushed the hosts to a 25-19 lead after 10 minutes. Little changed after that as Zalgiris extended its margin to 43-35 at halftime and already had sealed the outcome, 66-48, at the end of the third quarter, as Benetton only managed to exchange baskets throughout the final period.
Zalgiris had an excellent start, racing ahead 8-2 with triples by Ayuso and Freeman and flashy basket by Cota. Nicholas stepped up with jumper from the high post and Popovic followed him with a basket-plus-foul that got the visitors within 12-11. Zalgiris responded with 4 points by Jankunas, to which Cota added a pair of free throws. Lavrinovic checked in with a turnaround jumper and a two-handed slam that boosted the hosts' lead to 22-13. Benetton took advantage of Beard's absence with a couple of easy baskets from under the rim by Marcus Goree and Nikos Zisis, but Zalgiris closed the first quarter ahead 25-19.
Zalgiris didn't slowed down in the second quarter as Ayuso and Freeman again made bombs from downtown for the first double-digit lead, 31-21. Zagiris's man-on-man defense limited Benetton's perimeter players but Popovic found open shots inside. Youngster Jonas Maciulis scored his first point for Zalgiris, while Guilherme Giovannoni broke the ice with jumper for Benetton. But the visitors struggled on defense as Freeman hit a new triple from the right corner that made it 34-25. Cota fed Lavrinovic for a dunk and scored himself while Ayuso added 2 more free throws to keep the hosts in front, 43-35, at the half..
Ayuso opened third quarter with shot from behind the arc that made him the top scorer of the game so far, with 14 points. Cota copied him and Jankunas added a fastbreak basket for an 8-0 run that more or less broke the game open. Marco Mordente made a shot from a downtown and added another basket for Benetton, but the visitors could not stop Ayuso, who drove for a difficult layup, nor Freeman, whose latest triple charged up the crowd and put Zalgiris ahead 58-44. Darius Silinskis made 2 free throws for the biggest lead yet, 63-46. Ayuso and Cota again teamed up and Benetton had no remedy for their speed as Zalgiris took a 66-48 edge into the final quarter.
Freeman started the fourth quarter with 3 free throws but Benetton answered with Popovic's three-point play and a tip-in by Goree. Lavrinovic made nice fakes before dunking and Zalgiris continued its superb performance on offense with a three-point by Maciulis and triple by Ayuso. Nicholas answered with difficult three pointer. Jankunas fed Lavrinovic for a dunk with no look assist in the paint. Benetton found Matteo Sorgana in the downtown for a triple that got visitors as close as 81-65, but got no closer as Cota and Jankunas managed the margin until Zalgiris had a solid home victory, 88-70, and its own share of first place in Group A.
Thursday, November 24, 2005