Although it went down to the wire, Union Olimpija got back on the winning track on Thursday night after three consecutive defeats with a 78-77 Group C home win against AEK Athens. Dzenan Rahimic was a key factor for the home team's victory thanks to his 17 points, and most of all his free throw with 4.8 seconds left, which decided the game. In this very important game for the Olimpija's Top 16 options, the hosts had valuable help from Marino Bazdaric with 16 points, Marko Maravic with 15, Roberts Stelmahers with 13 and Vladimer Boisa with 12. AEK got 26 points from Horace Jenkins, 24 of them in the second half. Pantelis Papaioakeim also added 13 for the Greeks, who fell to 1-5 and remain last in Group A, while Olimpija improves to 3-3.
One day before the game, coach Saso Filipovski knew that he wouldn't have two key players available, Aloysiius Anagonye and Saso Ozbolt, due to their injuries, so the defensive work of Olimpija started with a disadvantage in the game. On the other side, coach Fotis Katsikaris was conscious of the missing players in the home side and that's why he requested from his men to play more in the paint. Papaioakeim delivered with his great first half. The Greeks only needed 3 minutes to cut the initial 11-4 posted by Olimpija and all its baskets came from under the rim. With a 2-10 run, the Yellows jumped ahead for the first time, 13-14, and kept the advantage until the end of the first quarter, which ended 18-21.
Katsikaris' intentions were more obvious in the second quarter when he put on court three big men, Blagota Sekulic, Christos Tapoutos and Andreas Gliniadakis, plus Quadre Lollis and Jenkins. In the first half, AEK totalled 30 points from the paint, while Olimpija stayed at 12 and the Greeks also won the rebounding duel by 9-16. Centimeters allowed the Yellows to remain ahead, 29-32, just as triples by Smiljan Pavic and Maravic helped Olimpija to keep the pace, only 2 points down in minute 16, 36-34. But it was only for a while since some seconds later, Maravic committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Sotiris Nikolaidis which the Greeks used to score 4 points in a row. With free throws from Ioannis Bouroussis, the Yellows went to the locker rooms leading, 40-46.
One of the few players who probably didn't satisfy his coach was Jenkins, with only 2 points in the first half. But he put an ending to that situation as he scored the first 7 points of AEK after resumption to pull his team away, 42-53. Filipovski called a timeout and Rahimic scored 6 points in a 9-0 run that got Olimpija back in the hunt at 53-55. When Stelmahers scored for 56-57 it was minute 29, so the teams went into the decisive quarter quite close to each other, 58-61.
The hosts were more aggressive in defense in the last quarter and another triple by Stelmahers plus a free throw finally put Olimpija ahead, 66-64. Boisa also added his first triple to increase the gap to 69-64. The following 69-66 stayed on the scoreboard for more than 2 minutes and it was Tapoutos who pulled the Greeks within one single point, 69-68, with 4 minutes to go. This balance lasted until the closing seconds, but this time, unlike a week earlier in Rome, it was Olimpija's turn to emerge victorious from the situation. When Rahimic scored the second of two free throws for 78-77, Jenkins had more than 4 seconds for the last AEK attack, but this time he wasn't able to get to the basket. On his way he ran across Bazdaric, who forced an offensive foul on Jenkins, which ran AEK out of options for the possible win.
Thursday, December 11, 2003
Ziga Bojc, Ljubljana