KK Zagreb Croatia is the 2011 NIKE International Junior Tournament champion after a 76-65 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas on Sunday morning in Barcelona. In its first ever appearance in the tournament, Zagreb won all 4 games and celebrated a new high point for the Croatian club. Beyond any doubt the main reason behind its victory was youngster Dario Saric, who turned 17 only last month but showed that he can handle older players, to say the least. Saric had a stellar tournament and topped it off with an unprecedented triple-double in the title game. He posted 19 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists today, the last assist the most spectacular of all since it decided the game in the last minute. Saric also reached double-digits in drawn fouls with 10. This is only the second triple-double ever in the history of the NIJT final round, and the first ever in the title game. Mario Hezonja had 19 points as well, Dominik Mavra added 16 and Filip Knezevic scored 10. Arturas Gudaitis scored 13 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Zalgiris while Kaspars Vecvagars added 13.
Saric had a slow start with just 2 points and 2 assists in the first quarter, controlled by Zalgiris. Tomas Dimsa scored from the arc and added a lay up to bring his team to a 12-16 lead after 10 minutes of basketball. Mavra scored 4 in a row and Saric got into the groove, but Zalgiris was stayed strong, tying the game at 27-27 after Hezonja scored from the arc off a Saric pass. Gudaitis fought on the boards and with 7 points in a row put Zalgiris on top again, 29-34 but Mavra hit a late bucket and bonus from the line to to put Zagreb just two points behind at the half, 32-34.
The second half started with Saric hitting 4 points in a row and showing a much more active side. Gudaitis reached double-digits with 11 pints and the close race continued with Saric adding a lay-up to set the score on 44-42 at the bottom of the 3rd quarter. Hezonja triggered Zagreb's first run with a big dunk and another jumper, enough for a 50-42 gap, and Saric scored the last points of the quarter to set the first double-digit lead of the game, 53-43. Ignas Ramasauskas came on in the 4th with 4 points in a row and Vecvagars scored from the arc to make it just a 2 point game, with Saric out to recover from an injury. But the Croatian prospect jumped back on the floor and took over once again. A big kick out to Antonio Kraljic resulted in a three pointer that pushed the gap back up to 7, and with another drive Saric added a point to the margin, 66-57. Vecvagars didn't give up and with 5 points in a row cut it back to 5, but Saric drew the 10th foul, added a pair from the line and gave a huge assist to Knezevic who scored on the following play, restoring a 10-point lead inside the last minute, 72-62, to the joy of teammates, who celebrated with fists pumped in the air.
Sunday, May 8, 2011