Ulker passed a direct Group A rival in the Top 16 race when it held off visiting Union Olimpija 68-63 in Istanbul on Thursday. Ulker managed to even its group record at 5-5, while Olimpija falls to 4-6 and will need a good final rush to make it to the next round. Ibrahim Kutluay led the winners with 18 points, including 4 of 7 three-pointers and insurance free throws in the closing seconds. Efthimios Rentzias added 15 points, Joseph Blair posted a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, while Melvin Booker put up 11 more points for the hosts. Aloysius Anagonye led Olimpija with 18 points on 7 of 9 two-pointers and pulled 7 rebounds. Marino Bazdaric added 16 while Dzenan Rahimic had 11 and 7 rebounds for the guests.
After 2 minutes, Melvin Booker opened the scoring with free throws, but both offenses continued to struggled as a rain of turnovers followed. Marino Bazdaric equalled the score from the foul line in the fourth minute. Both sides tried to defend strongly inside and succeeded in these minutes. Efthimios Rentzias entered the game for Kerem Gonlum and shot from the right corner to give a 7-3 lead to Ulker. Olimpija continued to harvested only turnovers and misses as Rentzias scored again to extended the difference up to 8 points, 13-5. Bazdaric finally lit Olimpija's fuse with a triple, Aloysius Anagonye added his second basket and Roberts Stelmahers made his own shot from downtown as the visitors finished strong and came within 15-13 at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Ulker tried to run the break but Olimpija denied it by getting back into defense quickly. The hosts switched to zone defense while putting Petar Naumoski on the court, but Vladimir Boisa and Dzenan Rahimic's points kept Olimpija int the game. Ulker carried on fighting to keep the lead until Ibrahim Kutluay, with 8 points, and Rentzias, with another basket, helped fuel a 12-0 run. Naumoski closed the run with his own two-pointer and Ulker cruised to halftime, ahead by 35-23, thanks to Kutluay's 11 points in the second quarter.
Boisa stepped up for the guests early in the third quarter, scoring 5 straight points to cut Ulker's lead to 37-30 after 23 minutes. Olimpija's defense limited Ulker to just 2 points in 5 minutes, until Kutluay drilled another three-pointer. Soon after that, Bazdaric scored 4 free throws to bring Olimpija within 45-41, but Blair and Booker, who made a layup at the buzzer, helped Ulker to keep a 49-43 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Anagonye found some points in the paint early in the final quarter, and Ulker began to feel Olimpija's breath on its neck. Indeed, Anagonye's spectacular dunk with 6 minutes to go equalled the score at 52-52. Booker and Blair, both experienced enough to handle these situations, stepped up for the hosts along with Kutluay in those critical moments. Kutluay's single free throw with 2 minutes to go helped Ulker to get a six-point lead once again, 60-54. Olimpija tried to have another chance with tactical fouls, but Kutluay and Booker made 6 of 6 chances from the line, which meant that three-pointer s by Anagonye and Stelmahers in the final minute could not steal the win from Ulker in Istanbul.
Thursday, January 22, 2004