Adecco Asvel's completed the long road from last place to the Top 16 with a heroic 77-85 victory on the road against Real Madrid on Thursday in Group C. The win forged a three-way tie at 6-8 between Virtus, Asvel and Madrid, but the Spaniards had to say goodbye to the Euroleague season because in head-to-head games between the three, it had the worst record, 1-3. Virtus took fourth place and Asvel fifth. Madrid lost the battle for the best sixth-place finish, too, when Montepaschi won in Group B by 63 points over Buducnost, giving it a huge cross-group tiebreak advantage. With three victories to end the season, however, Asvel was the most unexpected team to make the next round. The winners were led by the 18 points from Robert Gulyas. Sacha Giffa added 16, Vasco Evtimov contributed 12, Stevin Smith nailed 11 and Andre Owens contributed 10. For the hosts, Dragan Tarlac paced with his 24 points from the frontcourt, while Damir Mulaomerovic and Derrick Alston tallied 14 apiece.
Harold Mrazek gave the first warning to the Spaniards with a mid-range jumper that bounced off the board and in to start the game. On the following play, Stevin Smith added a three to make that warning even more serious, but a good pass from Lucas Victoriano to Dragan Tarlac got Madrid in the scoring column at 2-5. Soon, a big three-pointer by Mumbru gave the hosts their first lead, 7-6. Tarlac became the offensive man of the moment for Madrid in the paint, but Gulyas was ready to do the same for Asvel with a three-point play to tie the game 9-9. Madrid didn't have to sweat much to find the way to Asvel's basket, just when the pace of the game started to increase. Madrid managed to draw some offensive fouls from Asvel, while on the other side Tarlac showed he meant business. In the last 3 minutes of the period, both teams showed good shooting accuracy, and when Gulyas's dropped 2 free throws for 9 points himself, Asvel was within a point of the hosts, 20-19, after one quarter.
The second quarter started with a slower mood as Madrid tried to move the ball more, but Asvel's improved defense never made it easy, even though the price to pay for the good defense was extra fouls for the French team. Suddenly, a long jumper from the side by Davor Marcelic, followed by Vasco Evtimov's hook put the guests ahead, 23-25, but Alberto Herreros quickly cooled things down from downtown for Madrid, which took back the lead at 26-25. Like that, the offensive genie was out of the bottle. The inside game of Asvel started working at full blast, with Evtimov picking up where Gulyas had left off, neither bothered too much by the defense of Tarlac or Eduardo Hernandez-Sonseca. Madrid's offense, meanwhile, slid into a phase of poor shooting and Asvel took advantage of that to forge a five-point lead, 30-35, in minute 17. A jumper by Andre Owens increased that to 34-41, causing Madrid coach Javier Imbroda to call a timeout. Damir Mulaomerovic got 2 points back for the hosts on a layup, but Gulyas replied with his second triple of the season for 36-45, which is how the scoreboard looked at halftime.
Herreros's three after resumption put his team back on trail at 41-45, but Asvel reacted quickl in front of that situation and pulled away again, though it never managed to reach a double-digit lead. The hosts showed poor shooting again, but Asvel allowed Madrid second and even third options to score on the offensive boards. Smith hit from 8 meters for 45-53, and right after that, Tarlac was called an unsportsmanlike foul that sent Smith again to the free throw line, to earn Asvel its first double-digit lead, 45-55. In the extra play, Sasha Giffa nailed the hook to draw a foul from Mumbru, giving Asvel 5 points from a single play, 45-58. On the other side, Derrick Alston didn't find alternatives under the boards, and Mrazek and Evtimov increased Asvel's lead to 16 points, 47-63. Real Madrid kept on insisting on long-range shots, but it was the penetrations that the hosts earned a 9-2 run for a 56-65 score that gave life back to the game as the stands started to boil. Alston's layup with 20 seconds to go was replied by Simon Petrov for a 58-68 score after 30 minutes.
Gulyas's fourth foul arrived early in the last quarter, and on the following play, Lucio Angulo pulled Real within 7 points, 61-68, from the 6.25 line. Tarlac proved to be effective from the paint again for 63-68, but Petrov cooled things down again from downtown on the following play. The Top 16 was seen near by both teams. The fans also saw that, and started to cheer louder than ever, but David Frigout helped to kill the hosts' momentum with his long jumper for 63-73 again. Mulaomerovic's vision of the game helped Madrid in those minutes, but a huge and motivated Evtimov emerged to score some key points and pull some key boards for his team. Tarlac scored 4 straight points to pull Madrid up to 73-79, but there was Giffa from the arc to ice the game again hitting for three and leaving Asvel ahead for good. Both teams tried until the very last minute, but Asvel's defense improved to deprive Real Madrid of much-needed points. Two free throws by Andre Owens put an end to the game for Asvel, but its Top 16 adventure had just begun.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
Jorge Muñoa, Madrid