Montepaschi Siena took another giant step toward an historic goal on Wednesday when it went to Istanbul and downed Ulker 80-92 in Group E. The array of offensive weapons brought to the task by Montepaschi could not be matched by Ulker, which never led in the game. As such, Montepaschi remains undefeated at 4-0 and will lead Group E going into the final two weeks of the Top 16. Ulker's record dropped to 0-4 as it was mathematically eliminated from contention for the Final Four. Alphonso Ford led the winners with 19 points and helped put the game out of reach with 13 points in 7 minutes right after halftime. Dusan Vukcevic and Mirsad Turkcan added 18 each, Roberto Chiacig 13, and Mikalis Kakiouzis and Vrbica Stefanov 10 each. As impressive as Montepaschi looked putting 6 scorers in double-figures, its defense was key, too, in holding regular season MVP Joseph Blair to just 8 points and 2 rebounds. Harun Erdenay led Ulker with 16 points and Miljan Goljovic added 14.
Montepaschi took to the floor highly motivated and tried to give Ulker a knockout punch in the very first quarter. The main gun early was Vukcevic, who started drilling shots from the perimeter to put the Italian team in the lead. He would score 8 points in just 4 minutes and then the irrepressible Turkcan came up with a four-point play - a triple plus free throw - that sent Montepaschi ahead 9-14. The visitors went inside next to Chiacig, whose three-point play pushed the advantage to 14-23. Not only was Montepaschi scoring at will, but Ulker was getting in foul trouble, with power forward Kerem Gonlum called for his third already. Fortunately for Ulker, Erdenay had another good start and shot the hosts into a mini-comeback at 20-25. But Montepaschi insisted to the end, and when Stefanov's three-pointer landed 4 seconds before the first buzzer, the visitors had a 20-28 lead after 10 minutes.
In the second quarter, Montepaschi looked to stay well ahead thanks to three-pointers from Stefanov and Ford that kept the lead high, at 27-36. But little by little the Ulker defense started getting stingier while Goljovic started providing scoring punch off the bench. Ulker also started to be effective inside with Blair and Virginius Praskevicius working for better shots. Praskevicius had 7 points as the deficit kept dwindling. Finally, Ulker reduced the difference to just a point when Goljovic smacked in a three-pointer to make it 44-45 with 30 seconds left until the half. But Vukcevic didn't wait to answer, finishing the half as he had started it, with another three-pointer that let Montepaschi retain the semblance of its advantage, 44-48, after 20 minutes. Vukcevic and Chiacig were leading Montepaschi with 13 points each by then, while Erdenay's 10 were tops for Ulker.
The three-point race continued into the third quarter, too. The points kept piling up as each team put a higher premium on good shots then stopping the other team from getting the same. Ford took the responsibility for Montepaschi and started hitting basket after basket until the visitors had a double-digit lead, 48-58, on his three-pointer. Ulker was trying to reduce the difference but Ford was unstoppable. He would end up scoring 13 points in less than 7 minutes of the third period, but it was Stefanov who gave Montepaschi its best lead at 58-70. Melvin Booker appeared for Ulker to finish the quarter with a three-pointer from way outside that cut the deficit to 9 points, 64-73, at the end of 30 minutes.
In the last quarter, Ulker left its offense on the bench while Montepaschi increased its margin minute by minute. Halfway through, Turkcan's basket plus foul shot lifted the advantage to 13 points, 70-83. Soon, Kakiouzis drilled the three-pointer that erased all doubt, if the Ulker fans were still hopefull, by making it 71-88 with just over 3 minutes left. Appropriately enough, Vukcevic would hit the foul shots that accounted for the visitors' highest lead, 71-90. After that, Montepaschi relaxed as Ulker chopped a few points off the final margin. The Ulker fans would have to wait for another day to see a Top 16 win, while Montepaschi was closer than ever to its goal.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003