Lietuvos Rytas ends ULEB Cup campaign seven points short

  • 2004-03-18
  • By Tassos Coulaloglou
VILNIUS - After losing 79-72 in Israel a week earlier, Rytas needed to win by more than seven points in the return home leg of the Union of European Basketball Leagues Cup quarterfinals.

However, on March 9 they could only manage a one-point victory, squeaking by Hapoel Tel Aviv 81-80.
"We lost the game we had to win at any cost, but only one thing matters right now - our international season is over," explained a downtrodden Robertas Javtokas, who scored an impressive 17 points on seven for eight shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Ramunas Siskauskas was also efficient from the field – scoring 18 – but American playmaker Aaron Lucas was cold until late, scoring nine of his 20 points in the waning minutes while committing four turnovers.
The American Dickey Simpkins played less than nine minutes and recorded only two points with two turnovers. Rytas officials announced they would be releasing the veteran from the team and terminating the remainder of his two-year contract.
The game started well for the Vilnius team as it took a seven-point lead, but it quickly lost focus and began giving away easy baskets. Hapoel then closed the gap and eventually took the lead, going on a 10 - 3 run and ending the first quarter 18 – 21 in its favor.
Rytas opened the second with some uninspired play, letting Hapoel increase their lead before the crowd took to energizing the home team. They again played through the adversity and began flourishing with their own up-tempo style of basketball.
"Deep in my heart I believed that we could build the eight points to advance," explained Lietuvos Rytas head coach Kestutis Kemzura.
However, as confident coach Kemzura may have been, it would be a tense halftime for Rytas as the teams entered the break tied at 42 and one of its main contributors, American playmaker Aaron Lucas, was having another subpar performance after committing seven turnovers the week before.
Again Lietuvos Rytas came out cold, missing six of their first seven shots, but the crowd seemed to keep the team from letting the deficit reach double digits.
Down by three going into the fourth quarter, Rytas showed why it was the favorite in the series, breaking out on a 10 – 0 run, playing both composed offense and stingy defense.
But just when Rytas was about to break the game open for good, Hapoel displayed great poise by hitting some clutch three-pointers and keeping the squad close. Rytas nearly folded under the strain, committing uncharacteristic turnovers and letting the visitors close the gap.
"My players showed a lot of will and strong character," said Hapoel head coach Sharon Drucker.
In the end, Rytas played as a team deep in the hole and was unable to stop a consistent attack by the Israelis.
"We couldn't execute our game plan and, most importantly, couldn't dominate on the boards," said Kemzura.
Three late three-pointers by Aaron Lucas were able to salvage the victory for Rytas – but not its ULEB Cup season.