Benetton Treviso returned to the fight for a spot in the Final Four as well as taking a revenge for the title-game loss last season by beating FC Barcelona 67-77 on the road on Wednesday night. Both teams are now tied in Group E with 1-1 records. Benetton ended Barcelona's 25-game Euroleague winning streak in Palau Blaugrana, 27 games in the city when last season's Final Four victories at Palau Sant Jordi are counted. To break that grip, Benetton had to, and did, play a perfect game. Everything went as Benetton coach Ettore Messina planned, as a matchup zone defense full of traps to limit Barca superstar Dejan Bodiroga helped the visitors on the offensive end, where point guard Tyus Edney was unstoppable. Edney led the winners with 24 points on 7 of 11 two-point shots and 2 of 3 threes. Marcelo Nicola added 20 points on 5 of 8 three-pointers against his former team, while Denis Marconato had 13 points and 8 rebounds for Benetton. Bodiroga and Vlado Ilievski, with 12 points apiece, were the only players in double figures for Barcelona, who had not lose at home since October 25, 2001 against Peristeri.
The game turned into a defensive battle from the very beginning, as almost everyone expected. Both teams excelled in the defensive end, forcing their opponents to long possessions and hustling for every ball. As such, a fast break layup by Evans and a three-pointer by Vlado Ilievski were the only points in the opening 3 minutes, while a three-meter jumper by Anderson Varejao gave the hosts a 5-2 lead. Edney came to the rescue for Benetton, drilling a mid-range jumper, but Evans picked up his second foul and had to go to the bench. De La Fuente pushing Benetton's matchup zone with a three-pointer from the top of the arc, and added a layup soon after that to give the hosts a 10-6 lead. Benetton struggled to score until Pittis found some space for an easy layup, which ignited a 0-6 run in which Marconato shined with a turnaround jumper and a two-handed slam, enough to help Benetton regain the lead at 10-12.
Benetton carried on extending its lead early in the second, as its trademark frontcourt, Nicola and Garbajosa, combined 8 points with a three-pointer apiece to extend the guests' lead to 17-26. Barcelona tried to rest Bodiroga, who had been limited to 2 points in the opening 14 minutes before heading to the bench, but Benetton's zone defense was being the key factor of the game, and another three by Edney finally made Benetton clinch a double-digit lead, 19-29, midway through the second. Bodiroga returned to the floor after a timeout, but
one thing was clear: coach Ettore Messina' game plan was close to perfection and his players were executing it. Bodiroga could not find spaces to score or distribute the ball, while low post traps came in every Barcelona offense. Meanwhile, a turnaround jumper by Nicola and a put-back dunk and a high-flying put-back dunk by Evans made it a 17-point game at 22-39, after a 5-16 run, silencing the crowd. A basket by youngster Victor Sada cut Benetton's lead to 24-39 at halftime. Barcelona made 9 of 27 field goals in the first half, while Benetton made 15 of 24 attempts.
Barcelona needed a quick comeback to return to the game, and everything looked better for the hosts as a layup by Dueñas and a running jumper by Juan Carlos Navarro, his first points of the game ignited a 8-2 opening run in which Ilievski and De La Fuente also scored, enough to cut Benetton's lead to single digits at 32-41, while Garbajosa picked up his third foul and returned to the bench. The hosts were able to run the break for the first time in this game, while Benetton called timeout to get back in track. It paid off, as the guests used a 0-9 run highlighted by Nicola's third bomb from downtown to keep a safe margin at 32-50, after a four-meter jumper by Edney and a layup by Martin Ides. Barcelona improved with Nacho Rodriguez on the floor, but the hosts only managed to exchange baskets with their opponents. Edney scored 4 points, while Guilherme Giovannoni and Evans drilled one apiece from beyond the arc in the final minutes, as Benetton kept a 44-60 lead entering the fourth.
The host needed a miracle but Benetton did not allow any kind of upset. An acrobatic layup by Edney and another three by Nicola made it a 19-point game at 48-67. A new game had started, since the outcome was clear, in which Benetton tried to keep its margin while Barcelona tried to cut it to avoid further troubles in case of future ties. Bodiroga finally woke up, scoring 6 points in a 11-3 run which cut Benetton's lead to 59-70 after a free throw by Dueñas. But Edney stepped up with a four-meter jumper, and Marconato followed him with a basket in the low post to avoid further troubles. Barcelona failed to cut the guests' lead to single digits, even when Ilievski drilled 2 threes in the final minutes, while Drejer, with a layup, managed to make it a 10-point game at the end of it. As such, Benetton took its revenge while ending Barcelona's 25-game winning streak at home.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004