In the leadup to last night’s Euroleague semifinal games, BallinEurope only got the chance to check out a couple of Nike International Junior Tournament games yesterday; a few brief thoughts run below.
Over at the big league’s official ‘site, the FMP Belgrad-KK Split Croatia Osiguranje game is being called “the best game in the tournament so far,” a sentiment with which BiE wholeheartedly agreed even before Milad Miljenovic’s game-winning three.
This matchup was definitely one of your proverbial “contrast of two styles” games, as FMP preferred to attack individual matchups and look for isolation as opposed to Split, which employed the classic European extra-pass game. Yet, the Splitters showed resilience in not backing down to FMP’s more physical game and bigger players. With the first quarter seeing Split settle for jumpshots while also foiling the full-court press Belgrade applied from the go, the Croatian side came out strong in the second and forced the surprised FMPs to adjust to its stifling defense. Turnabout is fair play.
BiE’s find of the game? I’d have to go with 2.05-meter Nikola Siladi here. Split simply could not get off an easy shot in the paint if Siladi was lurking and only when the Croats were able to draw him out from underneath was the zone a safe place for shooting. The stats say Siladi finished up with eight points and eight assists, but his contribution and game-changing ability had to be seen to be believed.
The tug-of-war/chess match was taken over on the Split side by Filip Najev and Esben Reinholt, who combined for exactly half of Split’s 72 points and BiE swears the basketball gods, every single point and rebound in the second half. Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration (after all, Reinholt did score eight points in the first two quarters), but damn if this combination didn’t dominate the last 20 minutes.
No matter, though: FMP managed to settle down in the second half and play smart basketball, continually changing up defenses in an attempt to confuse Split – which mostly worked, except for the dynamic duo up there – and kept them close enough to ultimately win at the buzzer, 74-72.
The FMP-Unicaja game today will thus be for all the marbles, i.e. advancement to Sunday’s final, as both teams are 2-0 with just a single-point differential between the two.
Oh, and BiE’s favorite moment of the game took place off-court. About halfway through the first quarter, Partizan Belgrade head coach Dusko Vujosevic attempted to surreptitiously enter the gym and quietly take a seat. Yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre. Instead, he was greeted with a serenade by boisterous Serbian supporters and spent the rest of the quarter posing with flag-draped fanatics. Those Serb backers really know how to bring the devotion…
Game two pitted Benetton Basket Treviso against Unicaja. Desperate for a shot at redemption, Treviso had little choice but to blow out Unicaja, thanks to that devastating 26-point loss to FMP on day one. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish side brought way too much depth and was consistently able to bring fresh bodies into the game.
How evenly spread was the Unicaja attack? At half, the score was Benetton 24, Unicaja 20. That 20 was divided among seven players and no one had more than four. And while both teams suffered a sluggish first two periods – despite a nice 22-12 run from the Italians after Unicaja took an early 8-2 lead – Unicaja came out of the locker room for the third as though the game-starting tipoff was about to take place.
In the second half, Unicaja let its superior frontcourt control the boards – particularly with potential future NBA player Deme Mambaye – while Rafa Freire just teed off from everywhere on the court. Freire ended up with 18 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 6-of-6 from the line to go with a fearless 10 rebounds. And Benetton had no answer for Mambaye, who contributed 18 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, unless you count letting him take ill-advised three-pointers. (Mambaye was zero for an incomprehensible three from beyond the arc.)
In fact, once Mambaye grabbed a rebound underneath, spun in the lane, jammed the ball home and drew the flagrant foul, the early dagger had been plunged. And this was at 33-28 early in the third quarter! Unicaja fed a steady diet of the triple towers Mambaye, Tautvydas Sabonis (any relation…?), and Malick Fall to control the paint throughout the game’s remainder. After a crushing 44-point second half, the final was Unicaja 64, Benetton Basket 52.
Group B, meanwhile, is Zalgiris Kaunas’ to lose, as they ascended to 2-0 with an 84-71 win over Union Olimpija. Zalgiris takes on INSEP, survivors of an OT game against Cajasol Sevilla, today for the second spot in the championship game.
Currently, INSEP and Olimpija sit at 1-1. However, INSEP has a plus-1 point differential, whereas Olimpija is at minus-11. Thanks to yesterday’s loss, however, even a blowout win by the Union against Cajasol combined with a Zalgiris victory would not be enough with tiebreakers in place. Likewise, a Zalgiris loss loses the Lithuanian side the tiebreaker, which would be an unfortunate circumstance indeed, as Kaunas really looks to have brought the best team to this tournament this year.