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Men’s Basketball : Soviets, Sabonis Fall to Yugoslavs

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

A Russian fairy tale:

Like the cavalry galloping over the steppes to the rescue, the Great Russian, 7-foot 3-inch and 270 pounds worth of Arvydas Sabonis arrived Sunday night to save his comrades from the European invader.

Was this dramatic or what?

Could it be anything but inspirational?

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Unfortunately, if Sabonis inspired anyone, it was the Yugoslavs. The Soviets led, 15-5, midway through the first half when Sabonis went in, but Yugoslav guards Drazen Petrovic and Zelimir Obradovic rained three-point goals on them and the Yugoslavs scored a 92-79 victory, celebrating as they went.

Yugoslavia thus takes the lead in Group A of the men’s Olympic competition. It will take an upset to keep it from meeting the Group B winner, expected to be the United States, in the men’s final. The Soviets are headed for a semifinal faceoff, expected to be against the United States.

As important as the game was, Sabonis’ presence overshadowed it. He had a painful two-year rehabilitation from his ruptured Achilles’ tendon, topped off with a winter in Oregon, where he is a first-round draft pick by the National Basketball Assn.'s Portland Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazer doctor, Robert Cook, had warned Sabonis that he was jeopardizing his recovery by playing so soon.

How did Sabonis do?

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At the beginning, he only tiptoed around gingerly. By the end he was trying more, and showing the effects on his long absence.

His numbers were unimpressive--11 points, 4 rebounds--but he also did some things that few 7-3, 270s can do: hitting a 20-footer; a steal and behind-the-back pass on the break for a layup.

There were questions aplenty: what was Coach Alexander Gomelsky’s doing?

Why did Gomelsky leave his best forward, Alexander Volkov, in the game to foul out before halftime?

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And what was going on behind the Soviet bench, where Australian officials said they saw Marat Gramov, the leading Soviet Olympic official, twice order Gomelsky to take Sabonis out of the game?

There were no answers. Gomelsky said he wasn’t coming to the interview room, and wasn’t letting Sabonis come, either. There were reports he’d make an announcement today. The mystery wrapped in an enigma deepened.


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