Though missing three regulars to injury, FC Barcelona showed why it was the Group A winner when it coasted 61-76 in Istanbul on Thursday to stop Ulker's five-game win streak and deny the home team a second-place finish. Ulker actually tied Cibona at 8-6, but slipped to second because of a -5 disadvantage in their two games this season. Barcelona cruised uncontested to the Euroleague's top regular season record, 12-2. Juan Carlos Navarro led Barca with 15 points in 22 minutes, while Patrick Femerling, Dejan Bodiroga and Rodrigo De La Fuente each scored 12. Ibrahim Kutluay led Ulker with 20 points, while Joseph Blair had 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Ulker got off to a miserable start, missing both field goal attempts and free throws, while Barcelona started on fire. Ulker changed to a zone defense, but it made little difference as Barcelona went ahead by 12 points, 4-16, in the opening minutes. Ulker's offense continued to sputter and a De La Fuente triple pushed Barca out to a 16 point lead with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter. Victor Sada stripped Naumoski in the closing moments of the first quarter and raced down court for a spactacular dunk that put the guests ahead 10-28 at the end of the quarter.
In the second period, Ulker stayed in its zone defense but this time found some success. They went on a 7-2 run to open the period, cutting the gap down to 13 points. Barcelona quickly adapted and used several fast break opportunities to push their lead back to 18 points, 19-37, halfway through the quarter. De La Fuente and Navarro helped Barcelona to keep the game in control with their three-point shooting and the best Ulker could do was to keep pace. At halftime, Barcelona had a 29-45 edge, as only Kutluay found modest success on the offensive end for the hosts.
Things were still going in Barcelona's favor to star the second half. Dejan Bodiroga scored a three-point play in the opening seconds of third, giving Barcelona its biggest advantage of the night, 29-48. Ulker's change of defensive strategy did little to slow their guests down, as the defending champs found answers to every test posed by Ulker. Barcelona especially dominated the war in the paint, controlling the rebounds and not allowing Ulker any second-chance points. Kutluay and Blair fought back, but their efforts fell short. In the game's 26th minute, Barcelona's young power forward, Anderson Varejao nailed a triple that boosted Barca's lead to 38-57. Two minuts later a Navarro layup pushed the guests' advantage to above 20 points, 40-61. On the final play of the quarter, point guard Vlado Ilievski nailed a long range jumper and Barcelona closed out the third quarter ahead 44-64.
Petar Naumoski scored his first basket of the game to begin the final stanza and Ulker was able to cut down the Barca lead to 15 points in the opening minutes of the fourth. Finally, Barca struggled to score against Ulker's zone defense, going scoreless for several minutes. Naumoski struck again moments later for Ulker, spurring a 7-0 rally that brought the hosts to within 51-64. Navarro got things back on track for Barcelona, drilling a triple that put the guests back in the drivers seat as the scoreboard read 51-67. In the final minutes, Ulker was unable to reduce the deficit to less than 13 points and Barca cruised to the win and locked up the best record in the Euroleague's regular season as well as first place in Group A.
Thursday, February 19, 2004