Olimpija took the front door into the Top 16 on Thursday beating Barcelona 80-74 at home and thereby clinching fourth place in Group B. Center Haris Mujezinovic came up big for the Slovenians with 26 points against Barcelona's solid frontline, but it was overall defense against one of the Euroleague's most potent offenses that did the deed. Olimpija finished in a 9-5 tie for third-place with Ulker of Istanbul, but fell to fourth because it had lost both meetings between the two.
Even though Olimpija started the game with a 6-1 run, the game changed direction in 55 seconds and the Catalans took the lead. Thanks to a great percentage with the mid-distance shots, mainly by Efthimios Rentzias and Arturas Karnisovas first for 8-10 and later for 10-15. Olimpija head coach Zmago Sagadin changed Stipe Modric for Jure Zdovc in the only change for the Slovenians during the first period, but the veteran captain couldn't do much. The height and the good numbers in shooting for the guests were too much for the hosts. In minute 8 Barcelona was ahead by 11, 16-27 and a basket on the buzzer by Alain Digbeu put the 23-31 at the end of the first.
It was clear that Barcelona wouldn't be able to follow that rhythm for long, and head coach Aito Garcia Reneses also made a lot of changes. Doug Overton made his debut with his new team, and he was joined by Alfonso Alzamora and Ademola Okulaja. On Olimpija's side, Aleksander Radojevic and his 222 centimetres. His presence under the rims was enough reason to convince the guests to move a little away from the basket, and Olimpij amanaged to balance the difficult duel before them. The score was soon better for the hosts, 27-33, and the crowd reacted, and then went nuts when Tnji Awojobi hit 6 straight points, two of them with a spectacular dunk, and tied the score at 37. The teams hit the locker rooms with Barcelona in the lead by 6 points, after 2 threes by Overton in the last two minutes, 44-50.
Barcelona started the second half with Roberto Dueñas and he was thefirst one to score for 44-52. From then on, Haris Mujezinovic took control of the game and scored 7 straight that put the hosts ahead, 54-52. The teams started to struggle for every ball, for every inch, and it was already too late to try to recover from larger deficits.
In the last quarter, the first point was scored in minute 33, 66-62. From that point, the Slovenian wouldn't let go of these 4 points. With the exception of the 70-70 tie after two free throws by Rodrigo de la Fuente, the hosts were in the lead all the time and when Mujezinovic scored for 75-70, a relaxed atmosphere reigned in the Tivoli arena. The game was sealed when Jasmin Hukic hit his only three for 80-72.
Thursday, February 14, 2002
Ziga Bojc, Ljubljana