Real Madrid made it to the Quarterfinal Playoffs from Top 16 Group E when it blasted visiting Ulker 74-53 in Spain on Thursday. Madrid improved to 4-1 and ties for the top spot in the group with Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv, which qualified earlier on Thursday. Ulker, now 1-4, was eliminated. Madrid and Maccabi exchanged 15-point wins in their head-to-head matchups, so the second tie-breaker - overall points differential - will be critical in order to clinch the first place and get homecourt advantage in the three-game playoffs. The Group E champion will face the second-place team from Group D, Olympiacos, in the next round, while the second-ranked team from Group E will go against Winterthur FC Barcelona. Igor Rakocevic led Madrid with 22 points in just 24 minutes against Ulker. Edu Hernandez-Sonseca added 12 points while Axel Hervelle had 10 for Madrid. Mirsad Turkcan and Vrbica Stefanov each had 13 points for Ulker. Madrid opened the game with a 12-1 run in which Hervelle and Bullock combined for 8 points. Ulker made just 2 of its 21 opening shots, as Madrid boosted its lead to 22-7 early in the second quarter and then again to 43-23 at halftime, enough to seal the win early.
Ulker looked for Oguz Savas in the early going, as he missed a jumper and then opened the score with a free throw. Reyes scored in the paint while Hervelle added a put-back layup for a 4-1 Madrid lead. Hervelle kept dominating the boards and scored again around the basket, then Bullock made free throws to force a Ulker timeout at 8-1. Ulker missed as many as 8 consecutive shots, while Bullock scored off a steal and Mickael Gelabale dunked it to cap a 12-1 opening run. Ulker had been limited to a free throw in 5 minutes until Omer Onan scored from downtown, but Madrid kept dominating the defensive rebound due to an outstanding Reyes. Rakocevic stepped up with his first basket and then added a jumper for a 16-4 Madrid lead. Drago Pasalic buried a three-pointer while Bullock fixed the score at 18-7 after 10 minutes in which Ulker was limited to 2-for-18 shooting.
Both teams exchanged missed shots and turnovers until Axel Scales hit a jumper that gave Madrid a 20-7 margin. Rakocevic hit free throws, as Ulker failed to find answers in offense. Turkcan eventually hit a triple but a red hot Rakocevic answered with a jumper while Edu Hernandez-Sonseca copied him for a 26-11 Madrid lead. Turkcan kept pacing Ulker with free throws, but Rakocevic followed Scales' triple with a running layup that made it an 18-point game, 31-13. Vrbica Stefanov buried a jumper, Ulker's first two-point basket after 15 attempts, but Hervelle replied from downtown. Pasalic and Scales exchanged baskets but Gelabale hit a three-pointer to push the hosts' lead to 39-18. Stefanov and a very active Savas brought Ulker within 41-23 before Reyes dunked it for a 43-23 Madrid margin at halftime.
Real Madrid already knew that Maccabi had won by 6 points, so it had a good chance to improve its lead in their head-to-head race for the first place in Group E. Gelabale fired in a jumper, while Hernandez-Sonseca followed a wild dunk with a triple to give Madrid a 25-point lead, 50-25. Ulker kept struggling against the hosts' excellent defense until Stefanov made a three-pointer that Turkcan followed with a put-back layup for a 51-30 deficit. Hervelle nailed his second triple that a red-hot Stefanov answered from downtown. Rakocevic joined the three-point festival with consecutive hits from the arc for a 60-33 Madrid margin. Turkcan stepped up with a jumper and then added a layup, while Hernandez-Sonseca shined again with a jumper and a triple for a 65-39 Madrid lead after 30 minutes.
Both teams went scoreless in the opening 2 minutes of the final period before Rakocevic - who else? - buried a three-pointer that Caner Oner erased in the other end. The outcome of the game was out of the question now, but Madrid kept trying to improve its overall situation in this group. Even with that, the hosts struggled to score now while Savas and a three-pointer by little-used Derya Yannier brought Ulker within 68-49. It didn't last long, as Rakocevic came off the bench to nail his fourth triple and then fed Bullock for another bomb from downtown, allowing all fans in the standings to leave with a smile and the hope to see their team finish their job next week and become the Group E champion.
Thursday, March 23, 2006