The Euroleague came closer to a change of champions and Skipper held onto its last chances for the Final Four on Thursday with a resounding 88-63 blowout victory over visiting Panathianikos. Skipper led by 16 points after one quarter, 21 at halftime and as many as 33 in the second half with a defense that didn't let the defending champions breathe despite the importance of the game. Skipper and Panathinaikos are now tied at 2-2, but both will have to win against undefeated Montepaschi Siena in the last two weeks for either to have a hope of making the Final Four, and then on a question of point differences. Skipper hit 12 of 27 three-pointers (44.4%) to just 3 of 19 (15.7%) for the Greens. Vlado Scepanovic led the winners with 14 points, while Robert Fultz added 13, Giacomo Galanda 11, Gianluca Basile and Tomas Van Den Spiegel 10 each. The Greens had 17 points from Arriel McDonald and 12 from Kostas Tsartsaris, but in addition to shooting badly from the outside, suffered a 38-27 disadvantage in rebounds.
The game started at full speed. Playing small forward as part of a short lineup, veteran Giorgos Ballogiannis opened the scoring for Panathinaikos, but Vlado Scepanovic, starting for injured Gianmarco Pozzecco, responded with a three for Skipper. Jaka Lakovic, in a double-point guard set with Arriel McDonald, hit a jumper off a pick-and-roll play, but Skipper played uptempo and found an easy dunk on the break by Lubos Barton. Panathinaikos double-teamed Mate Skelin in the post, but he found Scepanovic for an easy layup, and when Giacomo Galanda put in an offensive rebound, Skipper was up 9-6. Antonis Fotsis scored for the Greens but a Basile triple and 2 of 3 free throws by Galanda opened the first big breach, 14-8. Panathinaikos needed a timeout, but a Galanda jumper right after made it a 7-0 run. McDonald got to the line to stopped the slide, but Skelin answered with a dunk and another inside basket as Skipper doubled the Greens, 20-10. Things got even worse for the reigning champs as Basile drilled a three while drawing a foul and made the free throw, too. Before the quarter could end, Skipper ran the break again and Barton landed a three-pointer. Skipper had an 18-3 run on its hands and the score read 27-11 after 10 minutes.
Fragiskos Alvertis stopped the Panathianikos slide with a jumper to open the second quarter, then answered a Basile triple with one of his own and an inside basket by Emilio Kovacic with 2 more points. Skipper's defense was otherwise very intense, however, and when young Robert Fultz drilled a triple, it still led by double, 36-18. Now, Alvertis had foul troubles and was benched, and through the next few minutes, Skipper added an extra 2 points for a 40-20 lead. Basile and Scepanovic sat now with foul troubles for Skipper and George Kalaitzis kept the Greens alive with a basket-plus-foul for 42-25. But on the next play, Stefano Mancinelli got loose for an easy dunk. Mancinelli scored another layup on the break and Kovacic added a hookshot for Skipper's biggest lead yet, 48-25. McDonald scored a pair of free throws before the break, but Skipper reached intermission with a huge 21-point lead, 48-27.
Kutluay opened the second half with a free throw, but Fultz responded with a three-pointer for 51-28 on a great cross-court pass from Skelin. Alvertis tried to work the post, but Skipper was a rising tide and Galanda converted a dunk and Skelin copied him as the lead hit 55-30. The Skipper defense allowing litte room to the Greens little, and against a full press defense by Panathinaikos, Galanda hit another triple on a pick-and-roll for 60-34. Fultz soon rained another from downtown and the blowout was really gathering steam. Mancinelli made a great dunk on a backdoor slash the Greens were pretty much in shock as Barton, at the line, deepened the lead to 31 pointsm, 69-38. Alvertis suffered a turnover and then was was fouled out in frustration with Skipper was leading by 33. The third quarter ended 71-40 with the handwriting clearly legible on the wall.
Panathinaikos started the last quarter with a 2-6 mini-run andMcDonald hit a three to make it 73-49. Kovacic was fouled and scored both free throws, then McDonald scored in transition, but Skipper's solid lead was not endangered as Fultz hit his fourth triple to make it 79-51. Lakovic scored a jumper but Skipper's energy was simply too much for the guests. Scepanovic joined the fun with 2 more three-pointers down the stretch as Skipper started to think ahead to what lay ahead in the Top 16, a tall task of catching undefeated Montepaschi, but one in which some extra points might just come in handy. Indeed, at the end of a blowout against the defending champs, the Skipper fans could afford to dream.
Thursday, March 27, 2003