The difference between the leader and ex-champ on its own floor and the other Group A teams struggling for second place and backward was readily apparent as Barcelona easily thumped visiting Union Olimpija 92-72 on Wednesday. Barca raised its record to 9-2 and has practically clinched first place in the group, while Olimpija is 4-7 and faces a very tough road to qualification for the Top 16. Big man Roberto Dueñas led the winners with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists. Vlado Ilievski contributed 14 points, Juan Carlos Navarro 11 in 14 minutes, Dejan Bodiroga and Patrick Femerling 10 each. Barca took major leads in the second quarter and was never threatened afterward. Olimpija got best games out of Dzenan Rahimic, who had 18 points and 7 rebounds, and Roberts Stelmahers, who put up 16 points and 6 assists. Marino Bazdaric added 12 points for Olimpija.
Olimpija was able to stick with Barca through the first three minutes, when a triple by Stelmahers answered Navarro and tied the score 7-7. Navarro, Fucka and Vlado Ilievski had baskets in a quick 6-0 Barca run to a 13-7 lead, but an Aloysius Anagonye dunk and a basket-plus-foul by Stelmahers had Olimpija close again at 13-12. But while the visitors caught up, Barca kept scoring in bunches. Ilievski fired in a triple and Dueñas the next 4 points as the lead ballooned to 20-12 afer 8 minutes. Marino Bazdaric got 3 points back on one shot from downtown and Marko Maravic added a free throw for a 22-16 scoreboard, but in the meantime, Anderson Varejao and Dueñas got loose inside for easy baskets and a 24-16 Barca advantage after 10 minutes.
Varejao and Dueñas kept going with baskets to open the second quarter, just as Bazdaric tried to counter them with another triple. But then Bodiroga checked in with his first points, which made it 32-19 and reminded everyone how much firepower Barca held in reserve. The home lead continued to grow from there, to 39-23 follwoing a downtown strike from Navarro and a dunk by Rodrigo De la Fuente. Dzenan Rahimic and Smiljan Pavic worked that down to 39-27 for Olimpija, so Barca just rattled off 5 unanswered points in response, on free throws by Patrick Femerling and a new Ilievski triple. Nothing that Olimpija could do went unresponded to by Barca, and after De la Fuente banged a couple more shots, Fucka ended the half with a sweet jumper for a 50-34 advantage to the reigning champs.
Barca decided it could do without any suspense in the second half as Navarro opened the proceedings with a three-pointer. Rahimic tried to pull the Barca big men outside with his second triple, but the home team got and sank 8 consecutive free throws through the middle of the quarter, when the lead was still safe at 61-41. The pace slowed over the final minutes of the quarter as Rahimic kept putting up a fight, but Varejao countered with his own points, allowing Olimpija only as close as 72-54 after 30 minutes.
Stelmahers, who had finished the previous quarter with a triple, tried to rally Olimpija with another early in the fourth, but the score stalled there at 74-57. A couple minutes later, Bodiroga got started, and within 2 more minutes had put in 3 shots to go with a rebound putback by Dueñas for 82-59. It was just a matter of time now to an obvious outcome as Barca did the mopping up down the stretch without undue problems and send the fans home with a tidy 20-point victory to savor.
Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Juan Antonio Casanova, Barcelona