It took some serious stamina against a relentless rival, but Ulker Istanbul regained exclusive hold of second place in Group C on Wednesday with a gut-wrenching 85-84 overtime win against visiting Real Madrid. Joseph Blair's layup in the final half-minute of overtime proved the game-winning points, but before that, the lead changed plenty. After Ulker took control with a 23-8 third quarter, Madrid came back in the fourth and Alex Mumbru hit a last-second three-pointer to force overtime. The victory put Ulker's record at 7-2 and dropped Madrid to 6-4, the same as Virtus Bologna, which lost on the road to Idea Slask. Blair ruled the inside for the winners with 25 points and 12 rebounds, but with Madrid's defense keeping Melvin Booker's scoring low, Ulker got huge second-half and overtime contributions from others. Veteran captain Harun Erdenay finished with 16 points, Virginius Praskevicius 12 and Haluk Yildirim 10. For Madrid, which was without both Alberto Herreros and Damir Mulaomerovic, Mumbru put up 19 points, Lucas Victoriano and Alain Digbeu 14 each, and Derrick Alston 10.
Digbeu filled in the starting lineup for injured teammate Herreros and immediately made his mark with a three-pointer. Another backup among the starters, Vitoriano, soon copied him and with single baskets from Eduardo Hernandez-Sonseca and Alston, plus two from Mumbru, Madrid quickly had the scoring balance to battle Ulker toe-to-toe. On the other side, however, Blair was just beyond the control of Madrid's big men. The Euroleague MVP candidate dropped down his first 5 shots and had 11 points total as the teams neared the end of the quarter tied 16-16. Alston had a pair of free throws to put Madrid ahead before Booker cleared his throat and popped his first three-pointer. It looked like Ulker would get out of the first quarter with the lead, but in the last seconds, Digbeu was back with a second triple, like a punctuation mark on the first 10 minutes, which ended with the visitors in charge at 19-21.
Digbeu christened the second quarter with another jump shot, this on for just 2 points, and Alfonso Reyes added a basket as Madrid surged ahead 19-25. Miljan Goljovic, just off the bench too, got Ulker a pair of points with a jumper, but the shots stopped falling in general now. Reyes and Goljovic took turns on another pair of baskets and the scoreboard stood at 23-28 after 15 minutes. Madrid was locking up Blair at all costs inside. He didn't even shoot in the quarter, but started to accumulate rebounds. The points still came slow after that, but they came to Ulker: a free throw by Booker, a layup by Virginius Praskevicius and two foul shots by Goljovic had the game tied at 28-28 after 17 minutes. Dragan Tarlac got back the lead for Madrid at 28-30 and then broke loose for a couple more baskets. But in the middle of those, Tutku Acik buried a triple for the hosts, so Madrid's lead was now 31-34. Now the points were coming to Madrid most, and when Alston and Mumbru closed the half with a layup and a jumper, respectively, the guests were back in charge at 33-38.
Erdenay, Ulker's captain, signalled his team's resolve to come back with a three-pointer to start the second half. The battle was rejoined, and for Ulker, it was all about defense. The hosts proceeded to lock down Madrid's offense with something of a vengence. As Blair got his first points since the opening quarter, then Haluk Yildirim put up 5 points on a pair of shots, and then Praskevicius kept looking like his old self with a sweet jumper, the basket at the other end remained completely shut to Madrid. Half of the third quarter went by before Madrid scored, but by then Ulker had a 12-0 run and a 45-38 lead. Madrid's reaction came late, but it came, with Victoriano stepping up for a three-pointer and Mumbru adding his points. It was enough to stop the bleeding, but Ulker still reached the end of 30 minutes having turned the tables on Madrid with a 55-46 lead.
Madrid now needed some confidence to mount a comeback, and the return of Digbeu, with his third triple, did that. When Reyes put in a layup a minute later, then Digbeu added a free throw, the visitors had pulled within striking distance at 57-52. Mumbru stepped up next with a three-pointer that cut the Ulker advantage down to just 2 points. The score stuck at 57-55 for almost 2 minutes until another key figure from earlier in the game reemerged, Yildirim, with another triple and some breathing room for Ulker at 60-55. With under 5 minutes left now, Acik and Praskevicius registered back-to-back two pointers for 64-57, but now Madrid made its move. The big shot was a three by Hernandez-Sonseca that made it 67-66. Erdenay answered with his own triple and a Blair layup boosted Ulker ahead 72-68. The final minute started with Victoriano missing a three, but after Alston added a free throw, Madrid's point guard made a key steal and layup for 72-71. Madrid fouled Erdenay, who dropped both his free shots, but then down the court came Mumbru and his three-pointer splashed through the net to send the game to overtime.
In the extra period, Erdenay put Ulker ahead with a pair of free throws, but Mumbru was not done, and immediately hit his fourth triple of the night to put Madrid up 76-77. Blair now got to the line and made both his freebies. Lucio Angulo broke free for a dunk assisted by Victoriano. Ulker looked to its ace, Blair, who got another free throw in before throwing down his own dunk for an 80-79 lead. Angulo answered with 2 of his own free throws, then Victoriano added 1 of 2 for 80-82. Here came Erdenay with a steal, layup and free throw on Mumbru's foul to put Ulker back in front, 83-82. And next, after a steal by Acik, Blair made a layup for 85-83, but Reyes answered quickly for Madrid at the start of the final minute to set the scene at 85-84. Erdenay missed at the far end, and now Madrid had two chances to pull off the victory, but shots by both Reyes inside and Digbeu from three-point land after an offensive rebound refused to fall. Ulker had hung on for victory and could practically punch its ticket to the Top 16.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003