Montepaschi took care of business before its adoring fans in Siena and punched its ticket to the Top 16 from brutal Group B with a difficult 76-69 win over Skipper Bologna on Thursday. After a thrilling game played with incredible intensity, both clubs now sit at 7-6 in Group B, good for third place, but Montepaschi owns tiebreak advantages that will move it forward in any case. Skipper, meanwhile, needs to avoid a four-way tie in order to advance. It was a tight game throughout, but Montepaschi's defense stepped up and kept Skipper from scoring on the fast break. David Vanterpool, whose tough defense was a key factor, also scored 23 points to lead Montepaschi, while David Andersen added 15 points and Giacomo Galanda 11. For the visitors, Milos Vujanic was the top scorer with 19 points, while Matjaz Smodis added 15 and Carlos Delfino 10.
Both teams lived up to expectations in the opening minutes. Their shooters were on fire, as a fast pace led to a 7-7 tie after only 2 minutes. Smodis immediately sank a triple and added a sweet three-point play to lead Skipper. Galanda, the former Skipper player, led the way for Montepaschi by drilling 4 points early. Vanterpool was Siena's most effective player later in the quarter, playing the pick-and-roll to perfection and creating opportunities for teammates. While Delfino and Vujanic got hot for Skipper, Vanterpool gave Siena the lead at the end of one quarter when he found Mindaugas Zukauskas in the corner for a triple that made the score 21-19 after 10 minutes.
Hanno Mottola showed his great elegance with his moves in the low post and he responded to Siena's strong start in the second quarter with baskets that brought Skipper to within 38-31. Trouble fell upon the Finnish forward soon afterwards, however, as he committed his third personal foul trying to sweep the boards against Galanda. With his trip to the line, Galanda hit a free throw, but the guests put together a 6-0 run with a three-pointer by Vujanic and a three-point play from Gianmarco Pozzecco, which completed an amazing coast to coast drive. Andersen tried to respond for Montepaschi on the last possession, but when his shot rimmed out the hosts went into the locker room with a three-point lead, 39-36.
Galanda opened the third quarter with a corner triple, but center Tomas Van den Spiegel answered with a follow-up dunk for Skipper. The match was getting tougher, as the defensive intensity picked up and both teams struggled to find the bottom of the net. Each team had 24-second shot clock violations and nothing came easily for either side. Montepaschi came out with the advantage, as Galanda hit his signature turnaround jump for a 47-38 edge. Skipper reacted with a great hoop from Delfino, but Roberto Chiacig answered for the hosts with a basket from the paint. Skipper fought back, but their rally fell short before the third quarter ended, as they fired two airballs and were down by 5 points, 56-61, after 30 minutes of action.
Skipper got bad news to start the fourth quarter, as Delfino fouled out and was replaced by reserve forward Patricio Prato. The intensity could be felt in the air and soon after entering the game, Prato committed a flagrant foul on Vanterpool. Vanterpool responded coolly, leading Montepaschi to its biggest lead, 65-57, with 5 minutes remaining. Vujanic responded with a triple for Skipper, but Zukauskas answered it and Vanterpool finished a fastbreak for good measure, pushing the lead to double figure, 70-60. Time was starting to run out on Skipper when Zukauskas was called for a flagrant foul on Smodis. To the 2 free throws by Smodis, Van den Spiegel added 1 of his own. Vanterpool took over for Montepaschi again, boosting the lead to 9 points. Montepaschi clinched the game when it recovered three straight offensive rebounds, which ate time off the clock, before Andersen converted a lay up. Matjaz Smodis hit a triple, which cut the lead to 74-67, but it was too late for Skipper with less than a minute to play. The Top 16 berth in this game was staying in Siena.
Thursday, February 12, 2004