VILNIUS - Lietuvos Rytas will go on to play Greece's Makedonikos in the final game of this year's ULEB Cup after beating Spain's Valencia Pamesa 75:65 on March 29.
"In front of our 11,000 tremendous fans we just couldn't play bad," the overwhelmed head coach Tomo Mahoricius said.
Indeed, the team from Lithuania's capital did win all eight games of its home games in Siemens Arena during the 2004/2005 ULEB Cup competition. The last and decisive game will take place in Charleroi on Apr. 19. Hopefully, as many Rytas fans as possible will travel to Belgium to support their team.
Lietuvos Rytas began nervously as Pamesa, which won the first leg 77:75, quickly took a 6-0 lead. Tyrone Nesby made the first two points for Lithuania, but went off the court six minutes after his third foul. Pamesa was quite successful at provoking Rytas' star, who scored 30 points a week earlier in Spain. But Rytas fought back and brought the game to 12:16 after the first 10 minutes, managing to lead by 37:36 at half-time.
Head coach Chechu Mulero had to admit that "poor free-throw shooting" was one of the reasons behind Pamesa's failure. Fabricio Oberto, one of the best players on the field, only made two points out of 10 trials, showing that it was good strategy for Rytas' players to foul him. In the second half, Tyrone Nesby came back from the bench and scored 14 points. But 90 seconds before the final buzzer, Rytas led with 65:61 and an aggregate margin of two points.
At this point it all came down to free throws. Rytas' Roberts Stelmahers scored two important points from the line, bringing the score to 70:62. With 16 points, Stelmahers and Nesby were two of the highest scorers. The Spanish team failed again from the line and a fast break allowed Tyrone Nesby to perform an impressive slam-dunk, sealing the victory in style.
The Greeks from Makedonikos had to overcome a 23-point deficit against the Serbians of Hemofarm (who beat Ventspils in the quarterfinals), but forward Pete Mickeal contributed 32 points to the 96:65 victory at Kozani. Lietuvos Rytas should have a special eye on him and avoid fouls as he made 11 of his 13 free throws.
"Our strong will to go to the final overlapped every difficulty that arose throughout the match," Mickeal said with pride after the game.
The player is convinced that his team will win the ULEB cup title.
But Lietuvos Rytas already eliminated two Greek sides in this year's ULEB cup elimination round. Therefore, the team has a good chance to bring a European title to Lithuania, six years after Zalgiris won the Euroleague in Munich in 1999.