A fourth-quarter blast led by none other than Petar Naumoski rallied Ulker to its fourth straight Group A victory on Wednesday, a 76-70 thriller over visiting Cibona VIP in Istanbul. Naumoski scored 17 of his 25 points in the final 13 minutes to lift Ulker past Cibona, which had led by 18 points midway through the third quarter. Both teams are now tied at 7-5 behind group leader Barcelona, but if they end up tied when the regular season ends, Cibona owns the tie-break advantage. Nevermind that, however, because the victory almost assures Ulker of advancing, and the recent signing of Naumoski has proven an inspiration. The veteran guard took over after Ulker faced a 41-57 deficit late in the third quarter. Ulker was still down 11 with 7 minutes left in the game, after which Naumoski poured in 15 points. In the end, Ulker won the fourth quarter, 30-13. Efthimios Rentzias was the only other Ulker player to score in double digits with 13 points. For Cibona, Josip Vrankovic led the way with his 18 points and 5 boards, Andrija Zizic added 13 and Jurica Golemac chipped in with 12.
Big men Golemac and Blair scored inside and then dueling three-pointers from Vrankovic and Naumoski got the game off to a 5-5 start. Kerem Gonlum added 6 points and Ibrahim Kutluay a free throw for a 12-7 Ulker lead, but Vrankovic kept his team close with another triple, giving him 8 points already in 5 minutes. Kutluay responded from downtown also, making it 15-10 Ulker, but Cibona would not be discouraged. Rimac scored twice in close around another Blair basket then tied it 18-18 on a jump shot to close the first quarter.
Cibona completed its climb to the lead when Andrija Zizic hit his first shot to open the second quarter. When Scoonie Penn popped a triple from outside, the visitors had an 18-23 advantage. Marijan Mance joined in with a jumper for Cibona to maintain that lead, before Rimac extended it to 7 points, 22-29, with another two-point basket. That helped because Efthimios Rentzias stepped out and rained one triple for Ulker, then a couple miniutes later, Serkan Erdogan did the same. Still, Cibona was up 28-31, and Zizic went back to work inside for 4 points that reestablished a seven-point advantage, 28-35. Josip Sesar and Golemac were able to extend the advantage to 9 points before halftime, but Rentzias and Melvin Booker erased those baskets with 2 points each of their own to leave the halftime scoreboard at 32-39.
Cibona tried to put the game away early in the second half, and probably thought it had done so as a Sesar triple bumped the lead to 10 points, 34-44, and ignited a 2-13 run. That blow included a three-point play by Zizic and a triple by Vrankovic that had Cibona ahead by 18 points, 36-54. Ulker got started back with a Blair layup and a Rentzias triple, but Vrankovic matched that with a three-pointer of his own. But Rentzias popped another from the arc and Naumoski joined in with a jumper to cut Cibona's lead to 11 points, 46-57, after 30 minutes.
The heroics that awaited everyone in the fourth quarter were not so readily apparent when a layup by Zizic restored the Cibona lead to 11, at 55-66, after 33 minutes. But Naumoski had already added 5 points to his total and he was about to go on fire for real. A Booker layup got the deficit down to single digits, then Naumoski put in 2 free throws and Haluk Yildirim a layup. At 61-66, its lead disappearing, the Cibona defense got nervous and forgot about the old master. Naumoski landed his next triple with just under 5 minutes to play, and from there was unstoppable. In the next couple minutes, he dropped 2 more triples and a pair of free throws, and by that time, it was Ulker in a commanding situation, ahead 72-68 with under 2 minutes remaining. Naumoski got to the line again for 2 more foul shots before Kutluay finished Ulker's comeback with a layup that told the Istanbul crowd to expect some Top 16 dates soon.
Wednesday, February 4, 2004