With the scent of the Top 16 driving its defense to great intensity, Skipper Bologna registered a comfortable 63-72 road win over AEK in Athens on Wednesday to hold onto a piece of third place in Group A. Carlos Delfino paced Skipper with another solid all-around game of 18 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals. He got scoring help from Gianluca Basile with 14 points and Mate Skelin with 11. Skipper's overall rebounding advantage of 37-26 had a lot of contributors, but Thomas Van Den Spiegel's 7 rebounds and 8 points off the bench was key. The victory lifts Skipper to 6-4 and a tie for third place with Efes Pilsen. AEK fell to 1-9 despite 20 points from Demos Dikoudis, 13 from Mikalis Kakiouzis and a 10-point, 11-rebound double-double by Andrew Betts.
Delfino led Skipper Bologna by the beginning of the game, while AEK was a little bit confused, giving the impression that it has stayed with the memories of its great Greek League victory over the weekend against Panathinaikos. The Italian visitors managed to play an uptempo game by moving the ball extremely well and by taking advantage of AEK's low rhythm. It all added up to a 3-11 Skipper lead 6 minutes before the end of the first quarter. AEK needed something, and Demos Dikoudis delivered. His 8 consecutive points had AEK looking like the Greek champions again and cut the deficit down to 11-13. Mate Skelin gave his answer, too, however, lifting Skipper back ahead at 11-16. After another basket by each team, the visitors' margin held at 5 points, 13-18, through 10 minutes, by which time Dikoudis and Delfino were leading their teams with 8 points each.
AEK captain Nikos Hatzis, the hot hand in that big weekend win, arrived in the second quarter, but Skipper didn't allow him to take its dominating spirit. Even though Michalis Kakiouzis cut the margin to the minimum, 19-20, the Italian team came up big to defend its superiority. It was clear that the most important difference between two opponents was the desire to win. AEK would like to win just for the prestige, Skipper Bologna for much more essential reasons. As such, Skipper showed more defensive fight and used that to forge an 11-2 run, sealed by a Gianluca Basile triple, to the game's first double-digit, 21-31, aftter 17 minutes. Skipper center Thomas Van Den Spiegel didn't allow Andrew Betts to make his usual offensive moves, while Basile and Gianmarco Pozzecco dominated Hatzis and Roderick Blackney. The result was an eight-point lead, 26-34, for Skipper at halftime.
To begin the third quarter, AEK was ready to make a run, cutting the margin to 30-34, but Skipper was ready to respond, too. Mate Skelin dominated in the paint against Betts while Pozzecco was too fast for his opponents. The Italian guard scored 5 consecutive points for a 10-point lead, 32-42, after 24 minutes. Within 4 more minutes, Pozzecco had hit a three-pointer to give Skipper its biggest lead thusfar, 41-54, which seemed to be the concret proof of the up-coming victory of the italian team. But AEK continued to sow doubt by scoring the last 5 points of the quarter and pulling the defecit back to single digits at 46-54.
Skipper, however, had already proved itself to be this game's boss, and the fourth quarter did not change that. After 34 minutes, the lead was at 13 points, 48-61, and then it soared 48-66 thanks to a three-pointer made by Delfino. AEK coach Dragan Sakota took a technical foul, but that failed to inspire a comeback. On the contrary, the Yellows did not really threaten Skipper again, although Dikoudis seemed to have some objections and tried to show his leadership. He scored 10 points in eight minutes, leading a 10-2 run by AEK over 3 minutes, good to pull within 58-68. But it was too late for miracles, so Skipper Bologna registered a deserved victory.
Wednesday, January 8, 2003
Vassilis Skountis, Athens