Zalgiris opened 2005 by defending its home court and securing good position in Group B with an 81-71 victory over visiting AEK on Thursday. It marked the first time that Zalgiris had consecutive victories all season and raised its record to 5-4, while AEK fell to sixth place at 4-5. Zalgiris dominated the first half but was held to 8 points in the third quarter, giving AEK a chance. Tanoka Beard, with another awesome show of 25 points and 18 rebounds, took that chance away with the help of Ainars Bagatskis, who came off the bench for 19 points. He and Mindaugas Timinskas, who finished with 18 points, shared 8 three-point shots. For AEK, Nikos Hatzis was the best man with 25 points and Sandro Nicevic added 16 behind 8 of 10 two-pointers, but the visitors could do little inside as Beard led a 40-24 rebound advantage for Zalgiris.
Vidas Ginevicius replaced injured Robert Pack in the Zalgiris starting five. Beard opened the scoring with the pair of free throws and Timinskas launched a three-pointer, but Hatzis soon answered for AEK with his first triple. Beard used his power in the paint to score a pair of shots around Dainius Salenga's driving layup for a 6-0 run to an 11-7 Zalgiris lead. Andreas Glyniadakis had 3 points to get AEK back within 11-9 but Salenga's next basket and another triple from Timinskas sent Zalgiris in front 16-11, although four AEK players shooting 1 for 2 on their free throws helped. By the time Hatzis got open for another triple, however, AEK was within 18-17. Zalgiris got its help from the bench as Darjus Lavrinovic started a 9-0 run in which Bagatskis scored his first three-pointer and a fine jump hook to put the hosts up 27-19 after 10 minutes.
After Beard and Sandro Nicevic exchanged baskets to start the second quarter, Bagatskis was at it again, combining his second shot from the arc with free throws in a 7-0 run that blasted Zalgiris to a 36-21 advantage. Nicevic and Sotirios Nikolaidis got 5 points back for AEK, but Paulius Jankunas kept the Zalgiris lead in double digits until another basket by Nicevic and a free throw by Lollis cut it down to 38-29. As AEK then struggled to make shots, Timinskas scored 4 points around a triple from Simonas Serapinas for 45-29 lead. Hatzis and Nicevic tried to fight back, but when Bagatskis raised up and hit from the arc again to finish the half, Zalgiris was in charge at 49-35.
AEK started its comback with a pair of layups by Lollis just after the break. Salenga and Beard restored a 14-point margin for Zalgiris at 53-39, but soon Hatzis was on the loose again, his next three-pointer sparking a 0-11 run that lasted 3 minutes put AEK right back in the game at 53-50 on a triple by Toby Bailey. Now it was a basket-for-basket struggle, with Nicevic holding up AEK's end with a couple more shots inside while 2 free throws from Timinskas helped Zalgiris cling to a 57-54 advantage after 30 minutes. The AEK defense held Zalgiris to just 8 points in the third quarter.
Beard got to the line on an offensive rebound for a point and hit a jumper against a double-team to calm Zalgiris at the start of the last quarter. After Nicevic scored on a feed from Pero Antic, Bagatskis effectively turned off AEK's hopes of a comeback with 2 big blasts from the three-point arc within a minute. That inspired the Zalgiris defense to hold AEK scoreless for 3 minutes during which Timinskas added a layup and Beard a couple more inside baskets for a 15-3 run and a 72-56 lead with under 5 minutes to play. Even when Bailey broke AEK's dry spell with triple, Timinskas matched him at the other end. Beard mopped up from there, with 3 more baskets to finish a hard night's work and keep Zalgiris among the top teams in Group B.
Thursday, January 6, 2005