Union Olimpija of Ljubljana has its status back as the team that can surprise even the biggest powerhouses. The Slovenian upstarts lost all of a 20-point lead in the second half but hung on at the finish to turn away mighty Barcelona 72-69 in Group G on Thursday. The victory forged a second-place tie at 1-1 between Olimpija and Barcelona, both behind undefeated Olympiacos. Roberts Stelmahers hit the game-winning free throw with 8 seconds before the finish for Olimpija and Vlatko Ilievski preserved the win with another pair from the foul line with 3 seconds showing on the clock. Ilievski and Goran Jurak led the way for the winners with 14 points apiece, while Stelmahers added 12 and Jasmin Hukic 11. For Barcelona, Dejan Bodiroga bagged 20 points and Sarunas Jasikevicius tallied 13.
Ilievski broke a scoring drought that started the game with a great drive for Olimpija, while Rodrigo De la Fuente did the same for Barcelona with a quick jumper. The 2.01-meter Jurak, moving outside to force 2.21 Roberto Dueñas to defend him away from the basket, now hit a triple for thehosts. But on the following play, Olimpija forward Vladimer Boisa picked up his third foul, forcing him to the bench. An early unsportsmanlike foul on Dueñas brought Jurak to the free throw line for 2 shots that made it 9-7. Both teams looked for quick offensive options, which caused problems on both sides, but Ilievski hit from downtown for his eighth point already within a 14-9 Olimpija lead. Soon, however, Bodiroga's jumper on a clear-out tied the game at 14-14, and a buzzer-beater by Nacho Rodriguez after 10 minutes gave Barcelona its first lead, 17-18.
The second period started with a 5-0 run for the hosts sealed by Hukic's triple, giving Olimpija back the lead at 22-20. Barcelona's long-range shooting was rather poor, while Hukic kept on bombarding from the arc. By that time, Olimpija had scored 15 of its 25 points from three-point territory. Before Barcelona knew it, the hosts mounted a 16-2 run to a 33-20 lead topped off by a Pero Dujmovic three-pointer. Sold out Tivoli Arena went wild for its team. A long jumper by Dujmovic kept things going at 39-27. Barcelona looked for different options on offense, but the good defensive speed of Olimpija was too much for the guests. A zone defense by Olimpija further flustered Barcelona as Ilievski added another steal and fastbreak for a maximum lead of 45-29 going into the half.
After Olimpija boosted its lead even higher, to 20 points, Juan Carlos Navarro scored Barcelona's first triple to start cutting the deficit down. And the cutting would continue. In the following minutes, thanks to scoring by Dueñas in the paint and Bodiroga everywhere, Barcelona rallied to within 12 points, 58-46, after 27 minutes. Barcelona's defens was forcing bad shots on Olimpija now, but at the other end, Bodiroga made a monster triple. Olimpija tried to find a way to score in the last plays of the quarter, but missed all options and the score settled at 58-52 heading into the final quarter.
Those final 10 minutes started with Sarunass Jasikevicius burying a triple and Bodiroga adding yet another jumper to tie at 60-60. Patrick Femerling joined the party to put Barca ahead at 60-62 to complete the avalanche of the Spaniards. Olimpija could only claim rebounding superiority, 29-17, but otherwise Barcelona was playing better. But Jurak now tied at 62-62, again from the charity line, and one of his penetrations made it 64-62. A couple of mistakes by Jasikevicius allowed Hukic to score a triple for 67-62, sealing a 7-0 run which became 8-0 with Jurak's new free throw with 1 minute, 30 seconds left. Jasikevicius rallied Barcelona with his own triple for 68-65. He then drew a foul and, after an Olimpija timeout, made both free throws to cut the lead to 68-67. Olimpija played a long final possession, at the end of which Roberts Stelmahers missed a three-pointer. The rebound fell to Dujmovic, however, and Stelmahers ended up on the free throw line to make 2 for a 70-67 lead with 8 seconds to go. Bodiroga had his at free throw line with 4 seconds to go, and nailed both, but so did Ilievski for Olimpija for 72-69. Navarro took responsibility for a game-tying three-point attempt on the run from midcourt, but it missed, giving Olimpija and its 5,000 fans their biggest win of the season.
Thursday, March 6, 2003