Ulker Istanbul has changed the landscape of the Group B race for the Top 16 by pulling off a spectacular 78-80 road upset at Union Olimpija in Slovenia on Thursday. With hundreds of its own fans in the sold-out Tivoli Arena, Ulker met the challenge posed by Olimpija on its home floor from the opening quarter. With this win, Ulker raises its record to 7-4 to tie with Olimpija for fourth place a victory behind Barcelona and Opel Skyliners, both 8-3. Ulker was led by Robert Stelmahers with 16 points, including key free throws down the stretch, after Olimpija had come back from a 17-point deficit to within a free throw of tying the game in the final minute. Quadre Lollis added 15 and Haluk Yildrim contribued 10 for Ulker. For the hosts, Beno Urdih and Vlado Ilievski had 17 points each. Haris Mujezinovic added 15 and Jiri Welsch hit 12.
Both head coaches started the game without their best players, Zmago Sagadin without Jiri Welsch and Murat Didin without Harun Erdenay. Olimpija was the one who drew first blood with a 6-0 start, but when Quadre Lollis and Bud Eley got hot, the score changed soon. In the next three minutes, Olimpija didn't score a point while Lollis put the Turks in the lead, 6-7. From that point, every ball was struggled for by both teams under the hoops, and the first quarter ended with a score tied at 14.
The second quarter saw both Welsch and Erdenay hit the floor and quicken the pace of the game, the former helping Olimpija build a five-point lead in minute 13, 23-18, and the latter as Ulker rebounded to lead 23-26 two minutes later. A three by Erdenay and two free throws by Roberts Stehlemars converted to 25-29. Beno Urdih and Welsch could have tied at 33 but instead, another three by Goljovic and the only fastbreak by Haluk in the first half, left Ulker five points ahead at the break.
The Turks didn't stop after the resumption. With a very aggressive defense and their superiority under the rims, they took over the game. Yildrim began the three-point festival, upheld by Stelmahers and Lollis. With the fifth three in eight shots by Ulker, Yildrim sent Ulker ahead in minute 23 by 37-46 and the Slovenian coach could do nothing but call for a timeout. It was useless as Yildrim continued with his particular game. His next three made it 41-53. That was the second of a chain of threes. The next made it 43-56, and the next 43-59. In all, Ulker hit 4 of 4 from beyond the 6.25 line to take over. The hosts were sunk in desperation, the 3,000 that had attended the game weren't enjoying themselves. But in one pocket of the arena, 150 Turks that had travelled to Slovenia were already celebrating the win.
Not only the Turks in the stands but those on the court thought the game was decided after three quarters and 54-70 on the scoreboard. But Olimpija was not about to take a loss sitting down. With six minutes left, the hosts roared back with a huge 17-7 run that made it 71-77 with two minutes to play, then 75-77 with onen left. Udrih missed a free throw with 26 seconds left, however, and Stelmahers hit three out of four in the remaining time to seal it for the visitors.
Thursday, January 17, 2002