Benetton Treviso of Italy has guaranteed itself a finish in the top three of Group A with a 91-93 victory Wednesday at Idea Slask Wroclaw. Benetton improves to 10-3 with the victory and keeps its hopes alive of possibly sneaking into first place before the season ends next week. Veteran forward Riccardo Pittis won the game on an open-court steal and dunk with 5 seconds left, just when Wroclaw was expecting to take attempt a game-winning possession. Bostjan Nachbar exploded for 28 oints to lead the winners, while Sergei Chikalkin chipped in 18 and Tyus Edney 14. On the side of Slask (3-10), Michael Wright led the way with 19 points and Michael Hawkins added 17. The high-powered Benetton team did not have an easy time against Slask. In front of its home crowd, Slask put a valiant fight and came literally centimeters away from sending the game into overtime. The two teams played evenly through the first quarter with Benetton leading by 4 after 10 minutes. The Greens began to pull away slightly before the half extending their lead to 7, at 39-46. Benetton continued to play well in the third period but Slask began to show signs of life despite trailing 60-73 going into the final quarter. Wroclaw slowly chipped away at the lead until they trailed by only two with the chance to tie the game as the final seconds ticked off the clock. Their final attempts fell short, as did their chances for an upset as Benetton held on.
Both teams played without key players, Benetton missing Denis Marconato and Marcelo Nicola inside, while Slask's Dominik Tomczyk and Maciej Zielinski were sitting on the bench because of injuries. The game started with Tyus Edney scoring without stop in the first quarter, which he finished with 10 points on drives to the basket. Slask had already led 10-8 through 5 minutes after three-pointers from Hawkins and Andrzej Adamek. But then Benetton made a 2-11 run including 5 points from Nachbar and 4 from Edney.
Help for Slask came unexpectelly from the bench. Pawel Wiekiera, who had performed in just seven Euroleague games this season, averaging 10 minutes, was one of the Slask's heroes. He scored 16 points, 2 more that in all the games till now. After his middle-distance shot and Aleksander Miloserdow's three-pointer, Slask took its biggest lead of the game 29-25 in the 14th minute. But Benetton answered quickly. Nachbar hit another bomb from downtown and Chikalkin added some important threes. The game was tied 39-39 in the 18th minute, but Benetton scored the only four points from then to the break to lead 39-43.
In the 25th minute everything seemed to be over for Slask. Benetton made points on every single attack and was leading 63-46. Slask did not have any idea how to stop the incredible outside shots made by Nachbar and Jorge Garbajosa. Then unexpectelly Idea's coach Andrej Urlep ordered a zone defence, which he doesn't like to use. The home team slowed the tempo of the game and used its advantage on the boards, where Wright was on fire.
Slask closed the gap to 6 points, 70-76, in the 33rd minute, but then couldn't score on five consecutive ofensive plays. And Nachbar made two easy shots this time from inside. With just four minutes to go Benetton lead 88-75. Then somebody from the crowd shouted to Slask's players: "Start to shoot for three!" And they did! Adomaitis, Hawkins and finally Wiekiera made threes and with just 70 seconds to go it was a tie 88-88. Then Nachabr made his sixth outside shot of the game, but Hawkins answered immediately with his fourth one. With just 15 seonds to go Slask's had the ball and was waiting for last seconds for the decisive play. And what happened? That's the question of the day, because Pittis took the ball from him and ran for his easiest points of the game.
Wednesday, February 6, 2002
Adrzej Jaworski, Wroclaw