With 14 triples from the arc, 73% accuracy on two-point shots and captain Jasmin Hukic scoring in the decisive moments, Union Olimpija seized a 94-92 home win Thursday to take over second place in Group B and jeopardize the chances of Montepaschi Siena to make the Top 16. The victory, combined with a road loss by Tau Ceramica, leaves Olimpija in second place at 9-4. In the single game remaining, Olimpija could finish first in the group with a win at Panathinaikos. Montepaschi, meanwhile, fell to 5-8, tied for sixth place with Zalgiris. Montepaschi can win or lose at home against Buducnost next week and still will rely on other results, inside and outside Group B, to know whether it will advance or not. The hosts were paced by Hukic and his 19 points, including some big three-pointers late in the action. Roberts Stelmahers added 16, among them the game-winning free throws, while Goran Jurak contributed 14 and Vlatko Ilievski 12. For Siena, Alphonso Ford led all scorers with 22 points, Vrbica Stefanov added 14 and Mirsad Turkcan and Roberto Chiacig nailed 13 each.
Since Montepaschi coach Ergin Ataman started the game with three towers - Cal Bowdler, Mindaugas Zukauskas and Mirsad Turkcan - Olimpija coach Tomo Mahoric had to reply with a fast five with Josko Poljak as the only true big man on court. That was a decision that gave better results than expected in the first 10 minutes. Poljak scored 8 vital points in the first period that allowed the hosts to struggle against the constant leads of Siena, 6-12 in minute 4, 11-17 in minute 6 and 14-21 in minute 8. Since Ataman's starting five worked well and all the players had scored 5 minutes into the game, he delayed the first changes until the start of the second quarter, when he realized that Olimpija was gaining strength despite a 20-25 score after 10 minutes.
Mahoric put Hukic, Ilievski and Jurak on court, and the first two were the main protagonists of the comeback. The first thing to arrive was Hukic's first three-pointer, followed by another from Ilievski. Five points in a row by Petar Dujmovic earned Union Olimpija a four-point lead in minute 12, 31-27. Ataman tried to stop the Slovenians through Roberto Chiacig and Dusan Vukcevic, but Alphonso Ford was the only player to remain productive for his team. Ilievski hit his second triple for 38-31 in minute 16, which prompted a Montepashi timeout. Union Olimpija was unstoppable, and threes fell on Siena's basket like rain. In the second quarter alone, Olimpija hit 6 threes for 8 of 16 overall in the half. Another three by Jurak earned Olimpija the biggest lead in minute 19, 50-36, but then a buzzer-beater by Ford allowed the Italians to hit the break down by just 11, 54-43.
Instead of Poljak, Ratko Varda started the second half for the hosts, but he committed three turnovers which Siena took advantage of to rally to within 56-49. That was a crucial minute for the guests. Turkcan was called for his fourth foul, and just a few sceonds later, Ford suffered an injury to his knee. Even though Ford was back on court later, he didn't manage to reach the same level of the first half. Without him, Siena's odds went smaller and Union Olimpija took control of the score again. In minute 27, the hosts came close the the maximum lead at 64-51, and thanks to Stelmahers' three in the last second of the period, Union Olimpija was ahead strong at 69-62 after 30 minutes.
The Italians saved some major effort for the last, decisive minutes. In minute 35 they pulled within 78-71, which became 83-77 in minute 37 and 86-82 in minute 39. With only 36 seconds to go, Giancarlo Marcaccini hit his second triple to put Siena only down by 1, 88-87, but that was all. With less than 20 seconds togo, Hukic put his fourth three in, good enough for 91-87 and Olimpija's ninth win of the season. A late basket by Ford gave the visitors a chance to win, but Stelmahers slammed the door shut at the foul line. As such, Montepaschi must wait one more week to know its fate.
Thursday, February 6, 2003