Make no doubt about it, CSKA Moscow rules in Group C. If anyone had any lingering questions about that, CSKA answered them with another blowout home win on Wednesday, 78-62 against second-place Ulker of Istanbul, the only team that could have argued a case for itself. Until now. CSKA goes 7-1 to start the second half of the regular season and drops Ulker a full two victories behind at 5-3. In the event of a future tie, CSKA has won both their meetings, too. This one featured a new set of protagonists on the offensive end, with Nikos Hatzivrettas drilling 22 points from outside for the winners and Victor Alexander 20 in the paint. J.R. Holden added 14 for the winners, but it was the collective CSKA defense, which forced 19 Ulker turnovers, that deserves most of the credit again. CSKA bottled up the inside and held MVP candidate Joseph Blair to 11 points, though he pulled 10 rebounds also in 37 minutes despite a nagging injury that made him doubtful to play. Ulker forward Virginius Praskevicius was also held to half his average, 7 points. Melvin Booker led Ulker with 19 points and Miljan Goljovic added 11.
Ulker took the game's first lead on a quick three-pointer by Harun Erdenay in the opening seconds, a good sign for the guests in terms of diversifying their attack. But CSKA did not stand for that long and immediately took control of the scoreboard. With a man-to-man defense and double teams to stop Blair, CSKA started putting the stranglehold on right after Erdenay's shot. Hatzivrettas hit his first three-pointer, Victor Khryapa added another and CSKA kept adding to the lead minute by minute until a third shot from downtown, this by Sergei Panov, made it 15-7 after 6 minutes. Khryapa was called for his third foul too early a couple minutes later, but that did not dampen CSKA's spirit, either. Hatzivrettas was doing what he wanted, including yet another triple to end the period, giving him 10 points and putting CSKA 11 ahead, 24-13. Again, the real star was CSKA's defense, which held Ulker to just 10 points after Erdenay's opening shot. The silver lining for the guests was that Blair had 6 of those points and 4 rebounds, meaning the injury that had kept him out of a Turkish League game over the weekend wasn't a great problem.
To start the second quarter, bench additions Theodoros Papaloukas and Sergi Monya quickly hit layups to push the CSKA lead to 28-13. Then CSKA looked to dominate the inside zone with Alexander, who was working on Blair at both ends. But Ulker shook itself awake with the help of shooter Miljan Goljovic, who hopped off the bench to score 7 straight points that helped Ulker get close. When Melvin Booker woke up with his own three-pointer, too, the difference was reduced to a single point: 36-35. In the remaining 3 minutes until the half, however, CSKA recovered from the shock of Ulker's awakening. Hatzivrettas now finished the second quarter with three foul shots on a Goljovic foul to give the hosts a six-point cushion, 43-37, at the half.
The third period started with two different faces on the court, CSKA Moscow's looking marvellous and Ulker's quite troublesome. Ulker buckled in front of the CSKA defense, committing turnover after turnover, and let the hosts play relaxed while boosting their lead in a matter of minutes to 20 points. Holden, busy harassing Booker on defense until then, joined Hatzivrettas in scoring now, and that duo killed Ulker's hopes getting back in the game. After numerous CSKA fastbreaks, a third three-pointer by Hatzivrettas gave the home side its biggest lead, 66-42, after 27 minutes. CSKA then relaxed a little, which Booker and Haluk Yildirim took advantage of in an 0-9 Ulker run, but before the quarter ended, Alexander was making a tip-in for a 17-point CSKA lead, 68-51, after 30 minutes.
In the last period, Ulker kept commiting turnovers while CSKA kept having no trouble at all to score. A 6-0 run started the quarter and CSKA passed the 20-point mark again on a fastbreak layup by Khryapa that made it 74-51. Alexander fouled out soon after that, but that changed nothing for CSKA. The home side still controlled the rest of the game easily and won it 78-62 to prove once and for all who belongs at the top of Group C now.
Wednesday, December 11, 2002