BELGRADE (Reuters) - Zalgiris Kaunas, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria and Anadolu Efes Istanbul have sealed their Euroleague Top 16 berths with two games to spare, joining seven other sides who advanced to the competition’s second group stage last week.
Zalgiris progressed after Thursday’s 74-52 home win over Karsiyaka Izmir, coupled with the result of Friday’s contest between heavyweights Panathinaikos and Barcelona which played into their hands.
The Greek side, who have six titles, overpowered twice winners Barcelona 93-86 thanks to 25 points by Serbia center Miroslav Raduljica.
Anadolu Efes advanced after outscoring Cedevita Zagreb 24-10 in the final quarter to win 81-75, with Croatian forward Dario Saric racking up 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Turkish side.
“We are very talented on offense,” Saric told www.euroleague.net after silencing his compatriots in the Drazen Petrovic Arena. “Sometimes we have problems with our defense but that was not the case today.”
Spaniards Laboral Kutxa eased past French side Limoges 92-56 on the back of 23 points by American guard Darius Adams.
Friday’s top fixture produced a rip-roaring contest between Red Star Belgrade and Khimki Moscow, which the Serbian side won 96-91 in front of 7,000 fervent fans in their Pionir Arena.
The lead changed frequently as both teams displayed high quality basketball, with Red Star prevailing in a tense finish thanks to their dynamic duo of Maik Zirbes and Quincy Miller.
German center Zirbes amassed 27 points and athletic American forward Miller added 25, cancelling out a brilliant individual performance by Khimki’s guard Alexey Shved, who finished with a game-high 28.
Former Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets campaigner Shved impressed but Khimki could not repel Zirbes and Miller, who sealed the thriller with a barrage of spectacular dunks in the final two minutes.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere but we knew what we would be up against because we know how much fans in Serbia love basketball,” Khimki’s Lithaunian coach Rimas Kurtinaitis told a news conference.
“As far as the players are concerned, Zirbes is an outstanding performer, a physical guy who caused us all sorts of problems.”
The outcome left Khimki and Red Star deadlocked on four wins and as many defeats alongside Bayern Munich, who stayed on course for a Top 16 berth with a resounding 82-69 win at Strasbourg.
The French side have a 3-5 record, the same as holders Real Madrid who kept alive their hopes of avoiding an embarrassing early exit with Thursday’s 80-73 home win over already qualified Fenerbahce.
Real, who will miss Rudy Fernandez for several weeks after the former Portland Trail Blazers guard underwent back surgery on Thursday, fought back from a 12-point first quarter deficit.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Alan Baldwin