Union Olimpija overcame Armani Jeans 72-76
Union Olimpija jumped to a 2-0 start in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague season on Thursday night when it defeated Armani Jeans Milano 72-76 at the Mediolanum Forum and joined Panathinaikos for first place in Group D. Goran Jagodnik and Saso Ozbolt scored 19 points apiece for the visitors, who relied heavily on their outside shooting touch, going 14 of 29 from beyond the arc. Vlado Ilievski added 12 points and Kenny Gregory 11 for Olimpija, which hosts Panathinaikos next week in a showdown for the top spot in the group. It was an even game throughout featuring 10 lead changes. The hosts looked poised to pull away early, but ended up surrendering to Olimpija and a red-hot Jagodnik. Ibby Jaaber led the home team with 13 points, Morris Finley added 12, David Hawkins 11, Jonas Maciulis 10 and Mason Rocca grabbed 10 rebounds for Mila no, which was without Week 1 star Oleksiy Pecherov due to injury. Milano visits Efes Pilsen next week.
Milano’s hot perimeter shooting that netted the road win at Moscow a week ago was on full display early on, when head coach Piero Bucchi’s side jumped to a quick 10-2 lead thanks to 6 points by Maciulis. Olimpija did not despair despite the deficit and started hitting from the outside, as Ozbolt tallied its team’s first 9 points and Jagodnik converted his first attempt to tighten the gap to 12-11. A three pointer by Ilievski put the visitors ahead for the first time, 12-14, and the opening quarter finished as it started: 16-16.
While Olimpija emphasized its outside shooting with a barrage of threes in the opening half, Milano found a more balanced attack with Jaaber penetrations and mid- to long-range jumpers from Finley, who hit two in a row to put Bucchi’s team ahead, 27-26. Promising youngster Niccolo Melli then scored his first 2 points in the Euroleague and it seemed AJ Milano had found a comfort zone, with Jabber and Marco Mordente hitting difficult buckets that made it 40-32 at the break.
Three more straight baskets by Mancinelli, Petravicius and Maciulis widened the margin to 12 points, to start the third quarter, but then Gregory took over and Olimpija, calm and steady when it mattered most, started a 12-25 rally to make it a ballgame again. Olimpija kept making the extra pass and finding Ozbolt for wide open three-pointers. Player movement was the mantra and Gregory excelled in cuts to the basket, finishing at the rim with athleticism. On one of those, he cut the lead to 56-55 after a nifty pass from Damir Markota. Milano had trouble hitting their shots as the visitors tightened the defense, and in came in Mordente to try and spread the floor some. But Milano was unable to close out the quarter with the lead, as Jagodnik tricked Stefano Mancinelli into a couple of foul shots late, and then finished off the quarter with a dead on three that put Olimpija ahead, 59-60.
The guests stayed red hot in the fourth period, staring it off with a jumper and making three consecutive shots to keep the visitors in front, 63-66. Then Ilievski added a two-pointer to quiet the crowd. Bucchi called timeout with AJ Milano down 5 and four minutes to play. The home side regrouped somewhat and was able to force a desperate shot by Gregory as the shot clock was winding down. Rocca made it a 1-point game again, 67-68 after a pretty layup, readjusting mid-air to convert on the assist by Hawkins.
The forward was again the man in the middle of Milano’s comeback attempt, securing three consecutive offensive rebounds on their next possession, but the home team failed to get ahead, with missed shots by Finley, Mancinelli, Hawkins and Jabber. Olimpija tried to capitalize next and almost did when Gregory made a pretty move to the basket, but the shooting guard’s nifty layup just rolled off the rim, giving Milano new life, though little time left with a minute to go. With the visitor’s defense keying on Rocca, Finley was able to swing a pass to Hawkins, who went baseline for an easy lay up and the go ahead score, 71-70, again for Milano. With a share of the Group D lead at stake, Olimpija went to their money man of the night, Ozbolt, and he almost found a three-point play as he was fouled by Finley with under 30 ticks left. Coolly, he drained the ensuing free throws to make it 71-72. Head coach Jure Zdovc’s side had the lead, and this time for good, as Jabber could not convert his long jumper on the next possession and Jagodnik iced matters with two free throws of his own.
Thursday, October 28, 2010