One-third of the way through the Last 16, Benetton Basket took over sole possession of first place in Group J with a solid 76-84 road win over KK Zadar in Croatia on Tuesday. Benetton leads the group with a 2-0 record, while Zadar dropped to 0-2 and is alone in last place. Benetton became the first road team to win against Zadar in Croatia in its last 10 Eurocup and ULEB Cup home games. Incredible three-point shooitng by the visitors explained a lot. Benetton's shooters drilled 9 of their 12 three-point attempts in the first half to gain a 39-51 halftime lead and were 14 for 21 from behind the arc by the end of the game. Gary Neal nailed 5 triples to pace the winners with 23 points, while big man Sandro Nicevic had 5 of his 17 points in a crucial 0-7 fourth-quarter run that denied a Zadar comeback. Nicevic also had team-highs in assists (4) and blocks (2). Bobby Dixon scored all of his 12 points on three-pointers and Judson Wallace added 11 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to help Benetton outrebound the hosts 21-31. Big man Todor Gecevski had a monstrous 17-point first quarter for Zadar, but was limited to 7 points in the rest of the game, finishing with 24 points and a game-high 5 steals. Hrvoje Peric netted 13 points and Damir Rancic had 11 for the hosts who forced 19 Benetton turnovers but shot only 20 % on triples (6 of 29) compared to 66% for the guests.
Benetton was ready from the first whistle as Nicevic opened the scoring and Neal made it 0-5 with a triple. After Gecevski drilled his first shot of the night on the other end, Neal was right on the spot with another three-pointer for Benetton. Then Gecevski went to work with two lay-ups, but Matteo Soragna had a three in between them. Wallace scored 5 straight for the guests, Nicevic added a bucket, and all of sudden it was 6-18 in Benetton's favor. Gecevski came through with another 4 points inside and though the visitors matched that, Zadar's big man showed more skills with a hit from behind the arc. Rancic nailed another triple for the hosts to become the first Zadar player not named Gecevski to score and cut the margin to 16-24. Nicevic and Neal scored a basket each, but the fantastic Gecevski made a two-pointer and a put-back to make it 20-28 after the first 10 minutes. Neal outscored Gecevski 2-7 at the start of the second quarter and Domen Lorbek added a layup to expand the visitors' advantage to 22-37. Tomislav Ruzic stepped up with 4 straight points for Zadar, but Benetton just kept making shots, and it was 28-42 after Neal's fourth triple of the night. Ruzic, Deyan Ivanov and Peric sparked a 6-0 run for the hosts, trimming the lead to 34-42, but that's when Dixon got out of control. He drained triples on three consecutive possessions to put the difference back to 14 points, before Ruzic scored the last basket of the second quarter, and the scoreboard showed 39-51 at the halftime.
Gecevski opened the third quarter with a three-pointer and Juby Johnson chipped in with a layup to cut it to 44-51. The teams exchanged points on the following possessions, before Peric split free throws to make it as close as 49-55. But Dashaun Wood scored on the other end and then Soragna hit his second and Benetton's tenth three-pointer, and the Italian team seemed to be in control again at 49-60. Zadar managed to make a number of stops on defense, while Ivanov, Johnson and Rok Stipcevic provided scoring to help the Croatian champs back in the game. Then Gecevski made another bucket, Rancic drilled a three and Peric capped the 11-2 run with a layup to tie the game at 62-62 for the first time since 0-0. Dixon stopped Benetton's draught with a three on the last shot of the third quarter, giving the guests a 62-65 lead with 10 minutes to go. Gecevski found Jere Macura who slammed for the first points of the final quarter. Neal nailed his fifth triple for Benetton, but Rancic answered with his third three-pointer for Zadar and Macura scored inside to put Zadar in front at 69-68. Benetton only trailed for few seconds as Nicevic fueled a 0-7 run with 5 points to help the guests overtake the lead at 69-75 with five minutes to go. Stipcevic dished to Rancic for a layup for Zadar, but Soragna scored a three on the other end. Then Macura cut it to 74-78 with a three-point play only to see Radoslav Rancik step up with a put-back and Lorbek hit another Benetton triple to make it 74-83 with three minutes left on the clock. Neither team succeeded on the next four possessions, before Peric stole the ball to dunk. Rancik split free throws on the other end, and at 76-84 and only a minute to go, Benetton's only aim was to take care of the ball and avoid turnovers.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009