By Johnny Askounis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
VEF Riga in its second Basketball Champions League season made it to the playoffs. A massive improvement compared to its first with a 1-13 record landing the Latvian club in the last place of Group C. This year’s Group E against SIG Strasbourg, Peristeri, and Rytas Vilnius drew up a tough task but a three-pointer sank by Kristers Zoriks made all the difference on Tuesday. An underdog story with a perfect ending for the youngster.
“I got lucky, made the last shot and we are moving on,” the 22-year-old guard mentioned in the post-game press conference.
Peristeri was looking for a win by a margin of at least four points in the Regular Season Gameday 12 contest to advance instead of VEF Riga. The visitors climbed out of an 18-point hole and even went up by two points but never reached the magic number. However, an extra period would produce a fresh opportunity. With the game tied at 57, Zoriks hit an off-balance three with 1.2 seconds remaining.
“Yeah. Probably. At the level of the Basketball Champions League for sure,” he replied to a question whether the triple was the biggest shot of his career so far.
The rookie coming out of Saint Mary’s Gaels being modest will not degrade the status of being the absolute hero of the game. Kyle Allman Jr. got hot early pushing his side up to an 18-point advantage. However, Zoriks was the player getting the job done and removing all doubts stemming from the poor offensive showing in the second half.
The team based in Riga had never won two straight games at home in the Champions League. They were actually held on the wrong end of the result in their first seven attempts. They scored only 20 points in the second half, but also kept their opponents under 60 points for the first time in FIBA’s premier club continental competition.
“We started the game pretty well. We built a big lead but we knew it wouldn’t be like that the whole game,” he noted, “In the second half, we missed some open shots and they came back.”
Ioannis Bourousis was very close to spoiling the party for VEF Riga. His 19 points were more than his three previous BCL appearances combined. He knotted the contest at 57 with four seconds left but his last-ditch effort following the tough shot made by Zoriks fell way short.
The 22-year-old guard got to ten points with his playoffs-clinching shot. He averaged 14.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in the Regular Season helping his side overcome early unfriendly and likely just predictions regarding the outcome of Group E. The team coached by Janis Gailitis was not considered the front-runner coming into these six fixtures but is set up for six additional games and maybe more.
“I have no idea who we will be playing,” Zoriks mentioned ahead of the draw scheduled to take place on February 2 and place his team in a new group consisting of four teams, “We are not done yet. Our goal is to go as far as we can, try to win every game, and see how it goes.”
He joined VEF Riga last July fresh out of his sophomore season in the NCAA with Saint Mary’s. Injuries kept him sidelined until the 2019-20 season despite becoming a Gael prior to the 2017-18 season. His 3.9 points and 1.1 rebounds per contest painted the picture of his lone active NCAA campaign.
It has definitely been extremely challenging for Zoriks, a former key member of the junior Latvia national teams. He is back home and a proud member of the inaugural VEF Riga Champions League playoffs squad.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League