Thanks to a well-balanced attack, Ulker overcame its recent struggles to defeat Partizan 81-73 on Thursday in a Group A home game that the Turks led from beginning to end. The win keeps the Top 16 hopes of Ulker, whose record improved to 4-5, while Partizan slipped into a three-way tie for second place at 5-4. Ibrahim Kutluay's 18 points spurred Ulker offensively, while Efthimios Rentzias finished with 16, Haluk Yildirim 15 and Melvin Booker 14. Petar Naumoski chipped in with 8 points and 9 assists off the bench. Partizan got a game-high 21 points from Vule Avdalovic, while Fred House scored 13 and Djuro Ostojic had 11 points and 11 rebounds. Ulker used a great second quarter to establish an early advantage, and held onto the lead thanks to a strong group effort, evidenced by 18 assists versus just 10 turnovers.
Melvin Booker scored 6 points early on for Ulker, giving the hosts a quick lead, but Partizan struck back behind Avdalovic and House and led 8-10 after 5 minutes. Booker, who scored 9 points in the first quarter, countered with another basket, so that when Kutluay sank a series of free throws, Ulker grabbed a 19-13 advantage. Partizan hit back with two quick baskets but neither team managed to score in the final minute of the first and Ulker led 20-17.
Kutluay's perimeter accuracy ignited a 9-0 Ulker run early in the second quarter. With the score 24-21, Kutluay nailed 2 triples and Rentzias another, putting the hosts ahead 33-21. Rentzias then took over the reins from Kutluay, knocking down several free throws that extended Ulker's lead to 39-25 in the 17th minute. Partizan hit back with 2 straight baskets but Ulker refused to reliquish control. Rentzias hit 2 more free throws and Yildirim drilled a three-pointer which gave the hosts their biggest lead yet, 47-31. Ostojic made 2 free throws for Partizan before the buzzer, but Ulker had a commanding 47-33 lead at halftime.
Partizan cut into Ulker's lead slightly in the third quarter thanks to triples from Goran Cakic and House. When Gerald Brown joined their downtown shooting spree, Partizan had cut the lead to single digits, 53-44. Cakic's layup in the 27th minute brought Partizan to within 56-49 but Ulker used a 7-0 run keyed by a Kutluay triple to double the lead, to 63-49. On the next possession, Brown found Dusan Kecman for a three-pointer and after Kutluay's three-point attempt rimmed out on the other end of court, Partizan was within 63-52 after three quarters.
Rentzias led Ulker's resurgence at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The power forward's back to back baskets gave Ulker a 67-52 lead in the 33rd minute. House countered with 5 straight points that brought Partizan to within 69-60, but Naumoski canned 2 triples moments later, giving Ulker full control at 78-65 with just 2 minutes remaining. Partizan's Brown answered with a triple but Partizan's ship was sunk when Booker canned a game-clinching three-pointer that put the hosts ahead 81-71 in the last minute of the game.
Thursday, January 15, 2004
Gokhan Ture, Istanbul