BELGRADE (Reuters) - Former Euroleague champions Maccabi Tel Aviv and Zalgiris Kaunas saw their perfect starts end in a pulsating sixth round of the preliminary group stage while Fenerbahce were undone by a last-gasp shot at unfancied Khimki Moscow.
Barcelona, the 2010 winners, remained the only unbeaten team after a comfortable 86-66 victory at Germany’s Brose Baskets Bamberg while holders Olympiakos Piraeus continued their recovery from a poor start with an 89-72 success at Caja Laboral at Vitoria on Friday.
Top flight newcomers Cedevita Zagreb produced the shock of the round when they beat Zalgiris 108-106 in double overtime on Thursday after their French forward Mickael Gelabale racked up 23 points and 10 rebounds against the 1999 winners of Europe’s premier club competition.
American guard Bracey Wright poured in 20 points, Serbian forward Predrag Suput scored 18 and Macedonian playmaker Vlado Ilievski added 16 for the Croatian side, who are enjoying unprecedented success after some heavy investment.
Having started at the bottom of Croatia’s basketball pyramid when they were founded in 1991, Cedevita finished as runners-up in three competitions last season - the national league and cup as well as a regional league incorporating teams mainly from the former Yugoslavia.
“We beat a great team and Gelabale showed tonight that he is an outstanding player,” Cedevita coach Bozidar Maljkovic told Croatian media after the rip-roaring encounter.
Former Real Madrid and Seattle Supersonics starter Gelabale added: ”It was a tough game and it reminded me of the 2012 Olympic quarter-final when (France) played Spain, except that we lost that one and the game didn’t go into double overtime.
“It’s tough playing at full throttle for 50 minutes but we stood firm and played strong defense, so I hope we can carry the momentum into the upcoming matches,” he said.
The success left Cedevita on a 2-4 record in their pool with an outside chance of reaching the second group stage of the 24-team competition.
Spaniards Unicaja Malaga edged Maccabi 64-62 after the home side failed to score on their last possession. The two teams are tied at the top of their section with five wins and one defeat each after Marcus Williams nailed the game-winning shot to finish on 12 points.
The contest on the outskirts of Moscow had an even more thrilling climax as Khimki, perennially overshadowed by their more illustrious neighbors CSKA, came out on top only after the officials relied on video evidence to declare them winners against Fenerbahce.
With the clock ticking, Kelvin Rivers grabbed an offensive rebound and hit an off-balance shot which went in on the buzzer but the referees had to look at the replay on their monitor to confirm that the American shooting guard released the ball on time.
Khimki had the upper hand before a late rally briefly swung the game Fenerbahce’s way, only for Rivers to take advantage of static defending and delight the home fans who held their breath as they waited for the verdict.
“In many games the result is decided in the last few seconds and I have to congratulate my team for winning such an intense match,” Khimki coach Andrija Gavrilovic told the official website (www.euroleague.net).
His Fenerbahce counterpart Simone Pianigiani added: “We fought until the last second but unfortunately we lost and the defeat could have an impact on the final standings in the group.”
With four out of six teams advancing to the top 16 from each of the four preliminary pools, Fenerbahce have plenty of work to do as the result left them fourth in their section on three wins and as many defeats, with Olimpija Ljubljana and Mapooro Cantu breathing down their necks.
Six-time winners Panathinaikos Athens boosted their own hopes in that section with a 79-68 home defeat of Real Madrid, the winners of eight Euroleague titles.
Real’s traditional Spanish rivals Barcelona are virtually assured of progressing to the second group stage, where the teams will be divided into two pools of eight, after Pete Mickeal scored 17 points and Juan Carlos Navarro chipped in with 13 at Bamberg.
Olympiakos lost two of their opening three games but registered their third successive win when they blew away Caja Laboral thanks to a blistering performance from power forward Kyle Hines, who netted 18 points after hitting nine of his 11 shots from the field.
Editing by Alan Baldwin