|25 March 2011|
|Jovica Arsic was not happy about giving away game two at home|
The EuroChallenge has been full of surprises this season and Thursday provided yet another.
On a night when Spartak Saint-Petersburg and Lokomotiv Kuban completed 2-0 sweeps against Pinar Karsiyaka and BCM Gravelines-Dunkerque, respectively, to reach the Final Four, Lukoil Academic laid an egg at home against KRKA Novo Mesto, falling 75-61.
The Bulgarian team must now win a Game 3 decider in Slovenia if it is to remain in the title hunt.
Jovica Arsic, the Lukoil coach, didn't need to analyze the game video to know what had gone wrong on Thursday in Sofia.
"We played a very bad game," he said.
"The first 20 minutes were simply catastrophic.
"According to the scouting that we had done, we were supposed to trail (Goran) Ikonic on the screens.
"Instead, most of the time we tried to cut the distance by going over (the screen) and he was able to take advantage."
Ikonic led the KRKA scoring attack with 16 points.
"We were also supposed to play a way better weak-side defense so we would not let them pick up so many offensive rebounds."
KRKA out-rebounded Lukoil 44-39, with 13 of the visitors' boards coming on the offensive glass.
Eight of those offensive rebounds were grabbed by KRKA in the first half when they took control.
"We were asleep for 20 minutes," Arsic said.
"From there, the game cannot be a normal one.
"If you let the opposing team run its game so easily, there's no way you cannot be nervous and there's no way you can avoid shooting so poorly from three-point range.
"Tonight, we had the worst shooting since we started the season back in September. We didn't play the way we're capable of playing and our opponent punished us for it."
Lukoil were just five of 28 from behind the arc 20 of 59 overall.
Aleksandar Dzikic, the head coach of KRKA, did a masterful job of rallying the troops after their Game 1 defeat.
"I would like to congratulate my players," he said.
"We didn't have even one normal practice after our last game against Lukoil because (Chris) Booker was sick and we also had some problems with (Dusan) Djordjevic."
The way the opener had gone, and the 48 hours that followed, the coach admitted he had feared the worst.
"To be honest, I wasn't too optimistic before this game," he said.
"We know that Lukoil is a good team with so many good individuals.
"We tried some things and today it worked, but it doesn't mean that it will also work on Wednesday when we play the final game for qualifying for the Final Four.
"We played good in the rebounding, we survived 22 turnovers and at the end we had pretty good shooting from the three-point range."
KRKA were nine of 17 from behind the arc.
The team also got an inspirational effort from big man Smiljan Pavic, who had a season-high 14 rebounds to go with his 13 points.
"We believed that we could win here and we knew that we could play better than we played at home," Pavic said.
"We didn't lose hope from the first to the last minute and we were up the whole game."
Arsic tipped his hat to KRKA, a side that has already qualified for the Adriatic League Final Four.
"They're a good, disciplined team and they know what they're good at," Arsic said.
"They might not have great stars that play entertaining basketball, but they are aware of their qualities and they give their best. We simply did not play as a team."
Arsic does have time to turn things around with Game 3 not being played until next Wednesday.
He needs his team to quickly forget about a performance in which they were impatient on offense.
"In the first half, we had a few offensive possessions where we shot the ball after the second pass, playing against their type of set defense," he said.
"If we don't change a few things before the third game, there's no way we can win.
"Congratulations to KRKA for their win.
"They deserved to win."
Spartak, meanwhile, played as if they could be the team to beat in this competition.
|Anton Ponkrashov contributed 8 points as Spartak sealed the deal in Izmir|
Karsiyaka have thrashed a lot of teams in Izmir this season but they were bowled over by Zvi Sherf's side, 89-71.
The Turkish club only trailed 57-54 late in the third quarter but Spartak then went into another gear.
The Russian Cup champions went on an 8-3 run to end the frame and then reeled of 12 of the first 13 points scored in the fourth to take command.
Six different players in the Russian team hit three-balls and they finished 11 of 21 from the arc as a team.
Lokomotiv Kuban, who have been on a rollercoaster ride all season, followed up their overtime win at Gravelines with an 86-68 victory in Krasnodar.
Jeremiah Massey had 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Lokomotiv.
Kestutis Kemzura, the Lokomotiv coach, stressed that Massey also played well on defense.
"He (Massey) has done a lot of work," Kemzura said.
"Firstly, it was Jeremiah who stopped one of the French leaders, (Cyril) Akpomedah.
"Alando Tucker was also perfect. He worked everywhere."
Oostende have travelled to Latvia to take on BK Ventspils for a Friday night game.
The Belgians have a 1-0 lead in that series.