Maccabi shook off its first Top 16 loss and took care of business at home on Thursday with a 90-76 victory over winless Ulker in Group F before another full house of 10,000 fans in Tel Aviv. Maccabi raised its record to 2-1 while waiting to see if Zalgiris, to whom it lost on the road last week, could remain undefeated in first place halfway through the Top 16. Maccabi's big men ruled against Ulker, with Nikola Vujcic pouring in 21 points and distributing 5 assists, several to frontcourt mate Maceo Baston, who had 17 points and 9 rebounds. Sarunas Jasikevicius and Tal Burstein added 11 points each for the winners, while Anthony Parker posted 10. Ulker also put five scorers in double figures, as Efthimios topped them with 14 points. Ibrahim Kutluay and Tutku Acik added 12 each, Joseph Blair and Serkan Erdogan 11 each, though it was far from enough to keep Ulker's record from sliding to 0-3 and virtual elimination from the Final Four race.
When Baston slammed home a pass from Vujcic on the game's first possession, and Erdogan missed a three-pointer on the other end, Maccabi's enthusiastic crowd looked to will their team to victory by generating the early momentum. But a hot-shooting Ulker seemed unfazed by the atmosphere at Nokia Arena, and made their next four shots for a 7-10 lead. Even Joseph Blair's second foul just 3 minutes into the game didn't slow down Ulker. Back-to-back threes by Booker and Kutluay made it 10-16. Maccabi never gave in, and kept pushing back until a Sarunas Jasikevicius triple with a minute left in the quarter put the hosts ahead 22-20. Deon Thomas capped a 7-2 run that finished the quarter with a free throw for a 23-20 Maccabi advantage after 10 minutes.
Maccabi began to pull away early in the second quarter, thanks to 7 straight points highlighted by a triple from Derrick Sharp that made the score 30-23. However, Ulker kept its poise still, as Tutku Acik drilled a shot from deep and added 2 free throws to keep the visitors within 32-28. Blair maintained that difference with an inside basket for 34-30, but with his fouls limiting him, the Ulker center found it hard to stop Vujcic, who scored at ease and continued to feed Baston. Maccabi's defense kicked into gear now, holding Uker scoreless almost 4 mintues until Kutluay finally ended a 9-0 Maccabi run with a three-pointer to make it 43-33. However, Baston answered right back with 2 dunks and Tal Burstein added another to carry Maccabi to the lockers with a 49-34 lead under its arm.
Both teams faltered at the start of the second half as the defenses held sway until Jasikevicius ended a two-minute scoring drought with a running jumper. Maccabi got its running game going and 5 transition points by Burstein saw the home advantage swell to 58-38. Just before all hope was lost for the visitors, Tutku Acik and Petar Naumoski rifled and Fatih Solak added a point from the line to give Ulker some life. Acik then took advantage of a Maccabi turnover to trim the score the deficit to its lowest since before halftime, 50-60. A Maccabi timeout settled the hosts, however, and they reeled off 10 points to finish the quarter with a 70-50 lead and full control of the game.
A long David Bluthenthal jumper gave Maccabi its biggest lead, 22 points, at the start of the final quarter. The hosts continued to push the ball, and only some solid shooting by Erdogan kept the game from becoming a real blowout. His fourth three-pointer of the game made it 60-77, and then Efthimios Rentzias made a pair of jumpers and a layup to help cut the score to 71-85 with 2:30 remaining. But those efforts would prove to be too little, too late, as Maccabi entertained its fans in the final minute on its way to a 90-76 win.
Thursday, March 18, 2004
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv