The 2003-04 season of the Euroleague opened in Turkey with smiles for the locas as host Ulker prevailed against AEK Athens 75-69 in a game in which both teams had to sweat each point put through the basket.The key of the game was to be found at the beginning, when Ibrahim Kutluay with 13 points, and Joseph Blair, wih 12 earned Ulker a 25-12 lead in the first 11 minutes. After that, AEK was never able to cut the deficit to less than 4 points. With this result, Ulker starts Group A with a 1-0 record, while AEK drops to 0-1. Blair led the winners with 20 points and 9 rebounds, while Kutluay didn't have to score beyond those first 13 points and Melvin Booker added 12. For AEK, Horace Jenkins was the only player to score in double digits with 23 points, while Blagota Sekulic added 9.
Jenkins opened the game with an easy layup for AEK, but it wasn't long before Blair, last season's regular season MVP, Joseph Blair, was getting to the foul line on an offensive rebound, blocking a shot and finishing a fastbreak to help Ulker get in front 5-2. And Kutluay had yet to get cranked up. He finished a 7-0 Ulker with a layup, then appeared from beyond the arc to nail his first triple for 10-4, to the delight of the Istanbul fans. Jenkins was still alone among AEK scorers and had all the visitors' points at 11-8 in minute 7. For Ulker, Blair and Kutluay kept making shots inside and out for a 15-8 advantage. After an AEK timeout, Kutluay remained on fire, lifting another triple from downtown. Pero Antic proved to be the remedy for AEK as his first shot was a triple for 20-12. But Kutluay was unstoppable, and his last three-pointer put 23-12 on the scoreboard after 10 minutes.
The second quarter didn't alter the script. Blair remained on court and soon hit another layup for his 12th point and a 28-12 Ulker advantage. Tough defense was another trend. It cost both teams lots of effort to sink each basket. Ulker seemed a bit lost after its splendid first quarter. Jenkins joines Nikos Zizis with baskets to confirmed AEK's reaction in front with a three-pointer for 29-22, a 1-10 run. Booker broke a four-minute scoring drought for Ulker with 2 free throws, but a jumper by Andreas Gliniadakis of AEK forced Ulker's first timeout. AEK was getting little from Quadre Lollis, who missed his sixth free throw out of seven tries, while a player coming back the the Euroleague, Efthimios Rentzias, made a shot from the arc to get ULker's double-digit lead back to 36-26 at the half.
After the half, Jenkins and Gliniadakis sparked a 0-5 AEK run to within 36-31, but a three-point play by Yildrim put Ulker ahead again 40-31. After an AEK timeout, Booker came back with two layups for another double-digit lead, 44-31. Ulker was also dominating the rebounds 28-21, but Jenkins went on with his particular war to score his 14th point of the night and Blagota Sekulic joined in for a three-pointer as AEK cut the deficit to 46-37. Sekulic emerged as the man of the third quarter for AEK, adding 5 more points consecutively, but Ulker's Serkan Erdogan got back 4 himself and the lead for the hosts was boosted to 55-44 at the end the third quarter despite Kutluay having rested the whole time.
With its ever-present defensive wall, Ulker played to protect its lead in the final period. Nikos Hatzis scored to give AEK some hope at 57-48, but AEK could only try desperately, and unsuccessfully, to penetrate Ulker's paint. On the other side, Rentzias dunked easily for 59-50. A triple by Hatzis earned AEK again the lowest deficit of the night at 59-54, but Rentzias just dunked again, fortunately for Ulker, because Sotiris Nikolaidis would appear off the visitors' bench to land another tirple to make it 61-57. In a burst of reaction, Ulker made a 6-0 run again thanks to Erdogan's triple and Blair's layup for a double-digit lead again, 69-59. Not even that held AEK back, as a triple by Lollis later trimmed the margin to 69-64. In the last 2 minutes, however, Tutku Acik's jumper and 2 free throws made it 73-65, a margin finally out of reach to AEK.
Wednesday, November 5, 2003