Roko-Leni Ukic's flying layup with 33 seconds left in overtime gave Lottomatica Roma a thrilling 88-87 victory over Partizan Igokea and exclusive hold on the all-important fifth place in Group C on Wednesday. It was Roma’s second straight win and boosted the club’s record to 5-7, putting head coach Jasmin Repesa’s side in pole position for a spot in the Top 16. Meanwhile Partizan dropped its third straight game and fifth in a row on the road to drop to 4-8. However since Roma failed to overcome the 5-point deficit from its loss at Partizan earlier in the season, the head-to-head tiebreaker between the clubs sits with the Serbian champs, should Partizan make the ground between the clubs before the end of the regular season. Ukic had a chance to give Roma a 3-point lead from the line with just 10 seconds remaining, but only made the first and missed the second, giving Partizan a chance to pull level or take the lead. David Hawkins fouled Dusan Kecman, who made both free throws to send the game to overtime. In the extra period, Partizan led by as many as 4 points, but Ukic would be the hero. He drove in and scored a lay-up with 30 seconds remaining for what would be the final score and Partizan failed to score at the end, with Milenko Tepic’s running one-hander in the final seconds off target. Ukic led Roma with 23 points, Erazem Lorbek added 22, Allan Ray 21 and Hawkins posted 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 steals. Novica Velickovic paced Partizan with a career-high 22 points and 9 rebounds, Nikola Pekovic added 17 points and 8 boards, Kecman added 15, Milt Palacio 13 and Tepic 10.
Velickovic started the game on fire for Partizan, burying 3 of 4 shots from behind the arc on his way to 13 points in the opening quarter. Neither side was able to open much of a lead, with Velickovic hitting his first 2 three-balls for the visitors’ first 6 points. A twisting, acrobatic drive by Ukic saw the guard release the ball with his back to the basket and he was fouled on the play. Ukic made the free throw to put the hosts back on top at 7-6. After Velickovic dunked to put the visitors back in front, he fed Pekovic for 2 points. Another Velickovic three stretched Partizan's advantage to 9-14, only for Ukic to hit a layup and Lorbek to follow with a three-pointer to tie the game. Petar Bozic's three, Partizan's fourth of the first quarter, saw the visitors take a 22-25 lead at the end of the quarter.
Neither side was able to create a substantial lead in the second quarter, either, but Roma were able to finish strong with a 6-0 run to close the period. Trailing 36-34 after another Bozic three-pointer, recent signing Rodrigo de la Fuente hit a couple of free throws and after a Pekovic turnover, Lorbek hit a jumper. The outstanding Ukic scored right before the end as Roma led 40-36. Velickovic, after his excellent first quarter, led all scorers with 13 points at the half, while Ray and Lorbek had 12 apiece for Roma.
Lorbek buried a three-pointer to start proceedings in the second half only for Kecman to reply with a three-point play. Ray then added to Roma's total with aggressive play on offense, earning him trips to the charity stripe where he made 4 in a row for a 47-39 lead. A three from captain Alessandro Tonolli then excited the home crowd, taking the Roma lead to its biggest yet, 50-39. Kecman made 2 more free throws to spark a 6-0 run that was capped by Palacio's three-pointer, but Lorbek scored down low and the high-scoring Ray added 2 free throws and a bucket to take the advantage back to 56-45 midway through the quarter. An Ukic shot from long range stretched the advantage to 59-47, and he would add 2 more free throws at the end of the frame as Roma took a 65-58 lead to the final quarter.
Ukic began the fourth quarter with a basket to extend the lead to 9, but Partizan got itself right back in it with a pair of Pekovic free throws capping a 0-7 surge that made it 67-65. After a Kecman free throw reduced the hosts' lead to 72-70, Roma appeared to go on a game-winning surge. De La Fuente scored 5 straight points on a couple of baskets and a free throw. The Spanish star, who made his reputation at Barcelona as a terrific defender, scored again to extend the lead to 79-71. Palacio then took over for Partizan, hitting two straight three-balls and then a jumper to close the gap to 79-78 with a minute to play. Ukic had a chance to give the home side a 3-point lead from the line, but made 1 of 2, and Kecman made 2 at the stripe to send the game to overtime.
Uros Tripkovic penetrated and scored to put Partizan in front in the overtime, and after Hawkins split 2 at the line, Tepic grabbed an offensive rebound off a Palacio miss and scored for an 81-84 lead. Hawkins earned a trip back to the line and made both to cut the deficit to 1, but the Roma star then put Palacio on the charity stripe and he made 1 of 2. Pekovic's hook shot with 2:14 remaining stretched Partizan's lead to 83-87 and it looked as if they might just leave Rome with a victory. Lorbek had other ideas. His three-pointer with less than two minutes to go made it 86-87, and after a Lorbek air ball, Gregor Fucka drew a charge from Palacio. With one minute to go, Partizan led by 1 and Palacio turned the ball over again, this time getting called for traveling. Ukic then drove in from the left for a layup to put Roma back on top at 88-87. Partizan went to the other end and Tepic missed, but Pekovic was there for the offensive rebound. He tried to go back up but had the ball swatted away by Hawkins. Partizan called a timeout with 5 seconds remaining, and when play resumed, they got the ball to Tepic. He dribbled to his left and put up a running one-hander that only drew iron as Roma prevailed to keep its Top 16 hopes alive.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008