Lithuanian teams struggle in the Top 16

  • 2006-03-22
  • By Tassos Coulaloglou

PUMPED: Michalis Kakiouzis of Barcelona has been playing especially well this season.

VILNIUS - In week 4 of the Euroleague Top 16, both Vilnius Lietuvos Rytas and Kaunas Zalgiris were in desperate need of a win. But neither team could pull off the away victory and it was the end of the road for one Lithuanian team. "It was the last important game for us in the Euroleague this season because now we have no options and the only thing we can hope for is to get further next year," said Zalgiris' American center Tanoka Beard.

Kaunas Zalgiris lost 81 's 69 to Spain's Winterthur in Barcelona on March 16. It was a must win for the Lithuanian league leaders who now have no chance of making it to the final four in Prague. They are winless in the Top 16 phase of the Euroleague competition. Darjus Lavrinovic accomplished a double-double with 18 points and 14 rebounds while Beard added 14 points for Zalgiris. Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro had a game high 23 points and Michalis Kakiouzis added 17 for the winners.
Leading by six points at the end of the first half, Barcelona extended their lead to 11 midway through the third quarter. Zalgiris, riding the strong play of Darjus Lavrinovic and feeding off the energy of their 19-year-old rising star Mantas Kalnietis, pulled to within one point with a few minutes remaining in the third.

But Navarro stepped up and hit big shots for Barcelona. Soon the hosts built up another double digit lead. It would not get closer than 10 again. "We had some good moments, but to beat Barcelona you have to play excellent for 40 minutes," said Zalgiris head coach Antanas Sereika. Vilnius' top team also saw the game slip away in the final period, losing 79 's 69 to CSKA in Moscow on March 15.

Playing without two of their important power forwards, Matthew Nielson and Haris Mujezinovic, Lietuvos Rytas were short under the basket. When both of their centers fouled out in the fourth quarter, they were in trouble. "We lost our chances with a couple of minutes to go when all our big guys left the court. It is impossible to win a game of this quality without centers," said Lietuvos Rytas head coach Neven Spahija.

After starting the game cold, Rytas had to claw back from a double digit deficit to finally pull even in the third quarter. A buzzer beater from CSKA gave the hosts a one point lead entering the fourth quarter. Moscow exploited Rytas's lack of depth on the bench and when both Vilnius centers fouled out late in the game, CSKA pulled away.
While not completely out of final four contention, Rytas will have to win out and get some help from group F's second place team, TAU Ceramica.