TARTU - As the regular season goes into its finale, Tartu University is making sure they do it on a high note, as they defeated Barsy 85-55.
The victory strengthens Tartu's positions in Group B, as they can feel pretty safe in the number two seed with an 8-3 record. The only way they drop out of it is if they lose to Ogre by more than six points and Ogre also defeats TTU in their last game.
For Barsy, this was their last game of the season, as they dropped to 2-10 and will finish at the very bottom of the group, making no claims for a Playoffs spot.
Both teams started off slow in the scoring department, yet Tartu managed to ignite their engine and raced off to an insurmountable lead before halftime. Barsy's lack of bench play did not help their cause either.
The victorious Tartu side was led by Kristjan Kitsing's 21 points and a big double-double of 16 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists by Julius Kazakauskas. Janar Talts and Tanel Sokk added 13 points apiece, while Vytenis Cizauskas finished with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
For the losing side, John Taylor stood out as one of the few bright spots in the game, as he dropped 20 points. Mikhail Yevstigneev and Pavel Ilin added 10 and 11 points, respectively.
TARTU - University of Tartu defeated Valmiera/ORDO 85-66 to mark their seventh victory in the BBL this Friday evening, providing encouragement in their run towards the Playoffs.
The victory puts Tartu in prime position to claim the second seed in Group B, as everything is in their hands alone. With 7 wins and 3 losses, they have all chances to finish second. Meanwhile, Valmiera/ORDO dropped to an abysmal 3-9, finishing their season out of the Playoffs.
Tartu had the upper hand from the early stages of the game, using the first half to advance into double-digit territory. They just improved after the break and finished the game without any interruptions.
Kristjan Kitsing was the leading scorer for the Estonians, as he dropped 21 points and tore down 7 rebounds. Janar Talts added 18 points and 9 boards, while Vytenis Cizauskas put in an impressive performance of 16 points, 11 assists and 6 rebounds. Mart Rosenthal and Tanel Sokk ended the game with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
For the visitors, Janis Kaufmanis led the way with 20 points. Viktors Iljins added a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Ojars Berzins ended up with 11 points.
TALLINN - Kalev/TLU marked their eleventh game with their seventh victory, as they cruised past Barsy 107-64 to start the weekend on a high note.
The victory temporarily pushes Kalev/TLU to the second spot, as they now sit with 7 wins, 4 losses and a total of 18 points. Right behind them are University of Tartu (7-3) and Ogre (6-4). For Barsy, this was the ninth loss in eleven games, as they look to finish their season on Monday with a game against Tartu.
This was a no-contest from the very start of the game, as TLU jumped ahead 23-9 just after ten minutes. The lead kept increasing and reached its peak at the very end of regulation - 43 points separated the two teams.
Six players achieved double-digit scoring for the Tallinn side, as Martin Jurtom led the way with 20. Kristo Saage and Bamba Fall added 14 points apiece, while Dorde Dzeletovic had 12. Tom Kaldre had a nice double-double of 11 points and 11 assists, as Bambale Osby ended the night with 10 points and 8 boards.
For the losing side, it was a 20-point performance from John Taylor, while Vladimir Ivanov added 17 to help their cause. Da'Quan Cook finished the game with 11.
RAPLA - A marvelous second half provided AVIS Utilitas Rapla with their fifth win in nine games, as they defeated Tsmoki-Minsk 93-68 on Thursday evening.
AVIS Utilitas Rapla secured the third seed with this victory, as they improved their record to 5-4, making it impossible for their closest opponent Parnu to catch up. The Estonians will face either Ogre, Kalev/TLU or Tartu University in the first round of the Playoffs.
For Tsmoki, this loss means that their chances to qualify have been reduced to a minimum, but they can still hope to gain a spot with a win against Betsafe/Liepaja next time around.
The two halves of the game were very different: after a neck-to-neck defensive game in the first half, Rapla lit it up in the second, winning the 20-minute stretch by 23 points.
Dominique Hawkins was the leading scorer for Rapla with 19 points in his account. Nolan Cressler was also efficient with 18 points, while Devonte Upson was a beast under the boards with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Kustas Poldoja added 11 points, while Sven Kaldre chipped in with 10.
For Minsk, Roman Rubinshteyn was the top gun with 18 points in his tally. Anton Vashekvich added 16 to the tally, while Yauheni Beliankou ended the night with 11.
TALLINN - When it's all too late to get into the playoffs, Barsy has finally shown some improvements, as they grabbed their second win by defeating TTU 71-66.
It was a game that meant little to both teams - both had already lost any hopes of qualifying for the Playoffs. TTU dropped to a record of 3 wins and 7 losses, while Barsy closed the gap between the two sides to just one win with a 2-8 record.
Da'Quan Cook had a great night getting to the foul line, as 10 of his 22 points came off the stripe. Cook also added 7 rebounds to the tally. John Taylor chipped in with 20 points and five boards, while Pavel Ilin had 15 points helping secure the win.
For TTU Sten Olmre was the go-to guy, as he dropped 22 points. Martin Giese was the Robin to his Batman, scoring 13 points and tearing down 8 rebounds. Levan Maskhulia ended the night with 12 points to his name.
PASVALYS - Pieno Žvaigždės used their chance to guarantee a first-place finish in Group B with a close 91-84 win over Ogre.
The victory guarantees a first-place finish for the Lithuanian club, as they sit atop of Group B with 8 victories and just one loss. Ogre are currently second with a 6-4 record and are being aggressively chased by Kalev/TLU and Tartu.
For nearly twenty minutes it was as very close affair, as the two sides battled as equals. Pieno žvaigždės managed to get ahead in the second half, though, as a double-digit lead allowed them to finish the game stress-free.
Seven players scored in double-digits with Latvian Arturs Ausejs leading the way with 15 points. Vyacheslav Bobrov and Martynas Varnas added 14, while Osvaldas Olisevicius finished with 13 points. Steponas Babrauskas and Tomas Lekunas had respectively 11 and 10 points.
For Ogre, Roberts Niedra led the way with 19 points. Rinalds Sirsnins added 14 points with 4 three-pointers to his name, while Gints Antrops and Rihards Zebergs finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Janis Poznaks came close to a double-double with 9 points and 10 boards.
PARNU - To many people's surprise, Tsmoki-Minsk actually managed to bring a victory back to Belarus, as they defeated Port of Parnu 89-84.
Tsmoki now improved to a record of 1-6 with their first win of the season, while the slip-up might cost Parnu a chance to fight for the third seed in the group, as they dropped to a 3-6 record.
Having trailed by 12 points with a quarter remaining in the game, Tsmoki climbed the mountain and took the lead after five consecutive points from Tsimafei Yeusiyevich with under a minute remaining. The hosts were unable to catch up and were forced to head home with their sixth loss.
Yauheni Beliankou was the leading scorer for the Belorussian side, as he dropped 23 points. Aliaksei Lashkevich added 14, while the trio of Roman Rubenshteyn, Siarhei Tatur and Viktar Ausepian enjoyed double-digit nights with 11 points apiece.
Saimon Sutt was stand-out performer for a dull Parnu side with 20 points. Mikhel Kirves added 19 to the tally, while Timo Eichfuss ended up with 13. Karl Johan Lips and Rannar Raap ended the night with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
VALMIERA - Valmiera/ORDO secured a victory that finally puts an end to their four-game losing streak. The Latvians had no trouble defeating Barsy in front of their fans, as they took an 88-61 win.
With any hopes of qualifying for the play-offs already gone, both Valmiera/ORDO and Barsy played more for honor than anything else. The victory allowed the hosts to improve to a 3-8 record with Tartu awaiting in their season finale. Barring any surprises, the Latvian side will finish sixth in the group, while Barsy are now dead-last with a 1-8 record without any hopes of rising up the ladder.
While after two quarters the visitors were still ahead by five points, the game went down the drain shortly after the break, as Valmiera/ORDO won the quarter 23-7. They followed that up with a beating in the final ten minutes as well, adding another 16 points to their lead.
Viktors Iljins was clearly the top performer in the game, as he showed up with a double-double of 19 points and 12 rebounds. Eduards Hazners added 16 points to the tally, while Ojars Alekss Berzins and Davids Viksne ended up with 14 points apiece. Janis Kaufmanis had a terrific performance, ending up with a devilish double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds, while also adding 5 rebounds to the tally.
For Barsy, Nikolay Bazhin and John Taylor finished with 16 points, as Da'Quan Cook added 14 to the tally. Pavel Ilin had a historically cold night, as he missed all his 18 field goal attempts and turned the ball over 5 times for a shocking efficiency rating of -18.
RADVILISKIS - Siauliai ended their region tour by taking revenge against the only team they had lost to earlier in the season, as they defeated Jurmala 87-83 after a close battle.
With an 8-1 record, Siauliai have now reached the top spot in Group A. On the other hand, this was just the first loss for Jurmala in eight games, and the Latvians are very much in control of their fate. They have a better series +/- score against Siauliai, having won the first game by 10.
There was no major swings in the game, as it was one of the closest games of the season with a total of 12 lead changes and the score tied on another 12 occasions. Jurmala had the largest lead of the game at eight points, taking advantage of second chance points on numerous occasions. The fact that Laurynas Birutis had to sit out a game due to an illness helped Jurmala's cause.
Nevertheless, a poor showing from the Latvian side's starting unit would not allow them to use the opportunity and remain undefeated.
Nicholas Zeisloft put up 21 points to lead his team in this category, while Donatas Sabeckis helped out carrying the scoring load. He had 16 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists. Vytautas Sarakauskas added 15 points to the tally, while Akeem Wright ended up with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 turnovers.
For Jurmala, Ivars Zvigurs had a great game, scoring 22 points and taring down 6 rebounds. Denis Krestinin added 15 points and 10 boards to the tally, while Arturs Strelnieks ended up with 11.
Laurynas Birutis, one of Lithuania's top young big men, is earning his stripes with top-notch performances this season. The 20-year-old Center, secured medals in both the U-18 and U-20 level, won the NKL MVP award last year and is adding the BBL Player of the Month honors this time around.
After a wobbly start to the season, the 20-year old Lithuanian picked the pace up and finished the year with some MVP-worthy performances, and four-of-four wins for his club. Birutis averaged 16.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.0 blocks per game throughout the month.
BBL.net sat down to talk with Laurynas, touching numerous topics.
Laurynas, every single person I talked to about you, would have pretty much the same response – "he was well-mannered, would never put himself above the rest and would work tirelessly during practices". It seems you're now reaping the rewards of all your hard work. What do these awards mean to you?
Well, the trophies always come when you're putting in an honest effort. I've always tried to work hard and it's important for me to keep my head down and continue doing just that – step by step I might get somewhere. Obviously, it's always nice to get some recognition, it adds motivation and just shows that I'm on the right path.
Your dad played a great part of his career in your current, your hometown club – Siauliai. Could it be said that you grew up with it during its so-called bronze age? Do you consider yourself a fan of the Siauliai club or does your heart already belong to Zalgiris, with whom you have a long-term contract?
I was very very little when my dad still played, so I don't remember much. But from what I've been told, I would always be in the arena, in a way supporting my dad. It's a shame I don't have any vivid memories. But to be fair, both Siauliai and Zalgiris are close to me and I support them both.
At the moment Siauliai is one of the top three teams in BBL, you're steadily heading towards the Play-offs in the Lithuanian league. How does it feel to be finally bringing back victories to Siauliai? Has the basketball atmosphere in the city changed?
I would say so – the team went through some rough years recently, but it's getting better. More fans come to enjoy the games – obviously it's more fun for us, when they come out and support. We try to repay them with victories.
You played your last BBL home games in Pakruojis and Joniskis, another game in Radviliskis awaits. What is your opinion on this initiative by the club? How is the support different than when playing in Siauliai?
I think it's a terrific initiative – perhaps the people in the region can't come to our games in Siauliai, but we're happy to go and see them and bring some entertainment. Definitely, I rate it very positively! The support has been great too – the arenas were much smaller, but they were packed. It's fun, hopefully we get the same support throughout the tour.
I have heard that you usually stay after practices to shoot three-pointers. However, you've attempted just one long-range shot throughout the season. How's your shooting in practices and when can we expect a Laurynas Birutis three-point showcase during a game?
To be honest, I don't quite know - I take three-pointers during scrimmage games too – sometimes I make them, sometimes I don't. You know, it's interesting – I just don't seem to find the opportunity during a regular game. I'd like to get one or two to fall in for sure, but I'll wait for my chances.
That gets me to my next question – which part of your game do you feel like you've improved most during the summer and throughout the season? Where do feel like needing to put an extra effort to be able to play at a higher level?
Most? I've improved my mid-range game game, I can finally shoot from a bit further away. There's nothing specific I tend to focus on – I just try to improve everything and just advance as a player. Of course, I need to strengthen my body and gain experience, but those come with time. Quite frankly, you can always improve every part of your game, I don't think you can ever reach perfection.
Speaking of a higher level, the NBA Draft is closing in. Have you decided whether to participate this year, or are you still considering your options? Do you feel like you'd even want to play there?
Oh no no, I haven't thought about it too much. I'm just focusing on this season and being the best player I can be, putting an extra effort to improve. Nevertheless, the NBA is naturally a dream for every basketball player. It's the highest level of competition and of course I'd like to try my hand at it.
Do you follow the NBA season and do you have any favorite team or player?
Honestly, I watch Euroleague more. The games in the NBA start very late, so I just watch the highlights the following day. I pay more attention during the Play-offs though. My favorite team would have to be the San Antonio Spurs and I do enjoy watching Pau Gasol go to work – he's a great player and a great person to match.
Finishing off with a question that would not be so serious - one of your former teammates told me they'd given you the nickname of Buzz (Bazas). Can you explain how it came to fruition and what nickname do you go by in your current team?
I think it was just that one teammate who would call me that and I'm not quite sure why! I know exactly who you're talking about though! My nicknames now are a bit simpler – they either call me Lauris or Biras.