A sea of blue and white in the spectator tribunes greeted the teams as they hit the court for today’s FIBA Europe Cup Men Final in Ploiesti, Romania and CSU Asesoft’s boys in blue were going to need the support as they faced a tough opponent in Lokomotiv Rostov.
The cool-headed Russians had shown in the Semi-Final that they were very capable of taking the title, especially if their hosts’ level of concentration didn’t remain high. In a terrific final which, in the final minutes went right down to the wire, Ploiesti held off a final surge even in the last seconds to finish victorious and take the title.
|George Paul Helcioiu (CSU Asesoft Ploiesti) |
The locals were already very emotional but the noisy crowd didn’t help as Rostov slowly built up a lead. Giedrus Gustas was excellent for the Russians, pushing the ball up the court and dishing to Dmitri Sokolov inside, however, Igor Kudelin had a slow start and couldn’t hit on target.
With little over one minute left in the period Vladimir Kuzmanovic stepped up and sank two crucial three-pointers to tie the game on the buzzer. These were the first of many clutch shots he made in this game on the way to a team high 28 points and the MVP award.
Stevenson answered for Lokomotiv with another 3-pointer at the start of the second period while his team-mates really tried to step up the defence on Ploiesti’s point guard Paul Helcioiu. He still could reply with another trey, which was soon followed by yet another from Kuzmanovic.
Asesoft took the lead for the first time in the game after 3 minutes, and thanks to their continuing accuracy from downtown, began to stretch the gap.
Kudelin returned to the game after a break but he also couldn’t stop the home team’s run. Ploiesti started to play much better defence and Stevenson found himself completely under pressure to even touch the ball. Rostov suddenly seemed powerless and couldn’t find solutions for their now-floundering offence.
Two sets of free-throws from Kuzmanovic at the end of the half gave the hosts a 9-point lead going into the locker-rooms, 31-40.
The three-point shoot-out going again right from the start of the second half. Ivan Krasic hit two within the first minute which were soon followed by one more from Kuzmanovic. Asesoft almost completely avoided going inside and risking going up against Sokolov. All their points were from outside.
|Final Four MVP Vladimir Kuzmanovik (CSU Asesoft Ploiesti) |
Stevenson finally broke loose and replied with three 3-pointers one after the other. The game became slowly more and more physical and the crowd louder and louder. Voronov sank two free-throws despite deafening noise and the extra adversity gave Kudelin the motivation he needed. He then hit a 3-pointer with two minutes to play in the quarter to bring the game back to within 6 points. The Russians could have even tied the game with free-throws, however, poor shooting from the line allowed Asesoft to pull away again to finish the period 55-62.
Lokomotiv came into the final quarter fired up and soon equalised thanks to great play from Kudelin and Stevenson. With just under five minutes left Rostov retook the lead and from here on the game went end to end, Kudelin, Stevenson and Kuzmanovic duelling it out from the three-point line.
With two minutes to go Rostov were up by one, 74-75, but neither team could then score. With eight second left Kuzamanovic calmly sank two free-throws to put Ploiesti ahead.
Rostov pushed the ball up the floor but time ran out before Sokolov was able to convert a Gustas pass inside for the dunk. The Asesoft bench erupted, along with the 3,000 spectators, as the buzzer sounded. Final score 74-75.
MVP of the Final Four was rightfully awarded to Vladimir Kuzmanovic, whose level-headedness and great shooting was the deciding factor for the home side.
The All-Star Five also included Igor Kudelin, who finished the Final with 18 points and Cameron Stevenson who scored a game-high 32 points (on 7/7 from the three.point line) and pulled down 10 rebounds. Ploiesti’s Paul Helcioiu also made the All Star team as well as George Banks from Banvit.