Union Olimpija said goodbye to its dreams to reach the Top 16 in Group A despite thrashing visiting Benetton Treviso 95-77 in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Thursday night. Olimpija, which finished Group A with a 5-9 record, needed to beat Benetton and wait for both Cibona and Armani Jeans Milano to lose in order to seal the last ticket to the Top 16 as the best sixth-ranked team. Since Cibona beat Efes Pilsen 60-49, Olimpija is eliminated from the competition. Meanwhile, Benetton was fourth in this group with a 8-6 record. Teemu Rannikko led the winners with 17 points on 5 of 7 three-pointers. Damon Stringer added 14 points in his Euroleague debut, DeMarco Johnson had 13 and Manuchar Markoishvili, who played against his former team, scored 12 points for Olimpija. Andrea Bargnani led Benetton with 19 points on 7 of 8 two-pointers, Drew Nicholas had 18, Uros Slokar 11 and Matteo Soragna 10. Olimpija hit 15 of 25 triples in the opening three quarters, neough to get a 48-31 margin at halftime and extend it to 81-53 to seal the outcome.
Uros Slokar broke the ice with a four-meter jumper for Benetton that Johnson matched at the other end for the hosts. Olimpija played with big intensity at both ends in the early going and it paid off. Manu Markoishvili nailed three-pointer that Dragisa Drobnjak followed with a quick layup for a 7-2 lead. Matteo Soragna tried to change things with a mid-range jumper but Drobnjak erased it with a jump hook that forced a Benetton timeout at 9-4. Markoishvili then capped a 11-2 run with a jumper which pushed Olimpija's margin to 11-4. Marcus Goree fired in an open triple, but Drobnjak stepped up with a layup and Johnson scored in the low post to make it an eight-point game, 15-7. Soragna hit a jumper that Ernest Kalve followed with a layup for Benetton, but Johnson and newcomer Damon Stringer combined for 6 quick points to keep Olimpija ahead 21-15 after 10 minutes.
Jimmy Oliver nailed a three-pointer that pushed Olimpija's lead to 24-15. Bargnani kept Benetton alive with another jumper but Stringer hit a seven-meter bomb to give the hosts a double-digit margin, 27-17. Benetton struggled to score until Slokar made a free throw and followed it with a big triple. Rannikko answered from downtown, however, and then Oliver finished a team-oriented Olimpija possession with another three. Yotam Halperin fired up the crowd with a fast reak dunk that made Benetton call timeout at 35-21. Goree took over with an acrobatic basket-plus-foul but Rannikko erased it with his second triple, Szymon Szewczyk added another one and once again Rannikko hit from downtown to make it a 18-point game, 44-26. Nicholas joined the three-point festival and Soragna hit a fadeaway jumper for Benetton, but Remon Van de Hare dunked to give Olimpija a 48-31 halftime margin.
Markoishvili buried a three-pointer and then took over with a reverse layup in traffic for Olimpija's biggest margin so far, 53-33, right after halftime. Nicholas tried to ignite a Benetton comeback with a tough jumper, but Olimpija was on fire. Rannikko nailed a triple that Halperin followed with a fastbreak layup. Nicholas and Rannikko exchanged triples to keep a 23-point margin, 61-38. Bargnani followed a jumper with a three-pointer, but Benetton only managed to exchange baskets now. Bargnani showed his all-around skills with a fadeaway jumper and Nicholas added 4 quick points, but the guests needed much more. Stringer took over with a couple of three-pointers, Oliver hit a step-back jumper while Szewczyk dunked and popped his own triple for an 81-53 Olimpija lead after 30 minutes.
The outcome was clear and fans were already keeping an eye on other scores to see if Olimpija could reach the Top 16. Olimpija slowed down the pace, looking for Johnson in the paint. Meanwhile, Bargnani kept hurting Olimpija with a fast break layup and a big dunk while Nicholas added a three-point play to make the hosts call timeout at 84-62. Markoishvili hit a jumper and Stringer nailed a three off the dribble to keep Olimpija out of trouble, 89-67, with 4 minutes to go. Nothing changed until the final buzzer, as Olimpija registered a big home win with the hope it wouldn't be the last one of its Euroleague season.
Thursday, February 9, 2006