Azovmash Hold Off Virtus To Reach Final

13 April 2007

They may have entered the EuroCup Final Four as the unknown team.
But after a 74-73 victory over Virtus Bologna in the first semi-final, everyone knew about Azovmash.

The Ukrainain outfit got off to a red hot start and then held their composure down the stretch to advance to the EuroCup title game this Sunday.

Azovmash led by as many as 18 in the first half, but Virtus came back to set up a thrilling finish.

Kenan Bajramovic scored four clutch points in the final 2:51, including what turned out be a game-winning putback with 1:36 that gave Azovmash a 74-73 lead.

He could have helped his team increase their advantage, but he missed a pair of free throws with 51 seconds to go.

However, Virtus committed a crucial backcourt violation turnover on their ensuing possession giving the ball back to Azovmash with 33 seconds to go.

Bajramovic misfired and Brett Blizzard came away with the rebound for Virtus with 11 seconds to go.

With a chance to win it, Blizzard got a great look at a jumper from the left elbow.

His shot rimmed out with just two seconds to go, Bajramovic came up with the rebound and time expired.

Azovmash players ran off the bench to celebrate their unexpected triumph against a Virtus squad that many expected to prevail.

"We are very lucky to get out of here with a win," said Azovmash's Khalid El-Amin. 

"In the second half Virtus played very well. Luck was on our side at the end and Blizzard missed that jump shot. In the second half we went down but we were able to maintain control and we played a great game tonight."

While Bajramovic came up with big plays down the stretch, it was Greek international Panagiotis Liadellis who was the offensive hero for Azovmash.

He finished with 24 points and helped Azovmash take a big lead which Virtus never fully recovered from.

Nine of the 24 came in the opening stanza when Azovmash took control.

"He's a great player, what can I say, he did his job today and
he's worth the money he's getting," said El-Amin of Liadellis.

The 2006 Ukrainian champions made six of their first eight shots from the field to jump out to a quick 12-3 lead.

Virtus closed the gap to four (16-12) but then Azovmash went on a 13-0 run to take a commanding double-digit lead.

Sergey Lischuk opened the run by hitting three-of-four free throws on two consecutive Azovmash possessions.

Panagiotis Liadellis hit a three and following a Virtus miss, Azovmash came out running.

Ricardo Powell threw down a crowd-pleasing alley-oop dunk courtesy of a pass from Khalid El-Amin.

Virtus turned the ball over on their next possession and Azovmash scored again on the break, this time on a driving runner from Liadellis.

The run was punctuated by a jumper from Bajramovic, which gave Azovmash a 29-12 lead with just over a minute to play in the first.

In the opening quarter, Azovmash shot a blistering 11-of-16 (69%) from the field, while Virtus struggled, going just 6-of-17 (35%).

Azovmash held a double-digit lead for the entire second quarter.

Their brilliant first half display culminated on an El-Amin three-pointer with two seconds remaining in the second stanza.

Rimas Girskis’ Azovmash side then became their own worst enemy by committing nine turnovers in third quarter and Virtus capitalized.

Virtus came out looking like a different team by scoring the first eight points of the second half to cut the deficit to 50-43.

A spurt of four consecutive Azovmash turnovers allowed Virtus to get within five in the third.

Leading 58-52 going into the fourth, Azovmash continued to be plagued by turnovers. El-Amin coughed up the ball resulting in a three-pointer for Blizzard which tied the score at 60 with 8:03 to go.

But Azovmash responded by scoring six straight on baskets from Liadellis, Powell and Bajramonovic, but Virtus had an answer of their own by going on a 6-0 run on three-pointers from Blizzard and Vlado Ilievski midway through the fourth.

The teams went back and forth trading baskets.

Virtus took their first lead (71-70) with just under three minutes remaining after a free throw from Andrea Michelori.

But Azovmash maintained their compsure behind the play of Bajramonic to prevail down the stretch.

The Bosnia & Herzegovinian finished with 11 points.

Powell scored 16 for Azovmash and Lishchuk added 11.

"Everybody on our team came up big at one point at or another tonight and I'm just happy we came out with the win," said El-Amin.

For Virtus, Travis Best was the top man with 14 points. Michelori chipped in with 12 and Blizzard tallied 11.



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