In the most hotly-contested game of the week, Olimpia Ljubljana fought off visiting Benetton Treviso with a 78-74 victory to solidify its position in the top two of Group C.
It was a very important game for both teams since the winner would take a big step towards an almost-sure playoff berth. The sell-out crowd of 5,000 and the memory of the last-second basket by Brezec of Olimpia that decided the first game these teams played in Treviso game this game extra excitement.
The Slovenian team played far better in the first quarter, but only until Pier Luigi Bucchi called on Jorge Garbajosa, who turned into the key player of the first half for Benetton. His 14 points led a 15-0 run for Benetton (from 20-14 to 20-29 in minute14), an advantage that nonetheless was overcome by Olimpija within 5 minutes, when the teams were tied again, 35-35.
After a balanced third quarter, the 10 decisive minutes came down the stretch, unlike in most of the Euroleague games this week, which were decided shortly after haftime. This time, Olimpia and Benetton were tied 65-65 with only three minutes to go. This situation made every single possession crucial for both sides.
The decisive basket came with one minute to go, and was scored by 20-year-old guard Jiri Welsch. The last 60 seconds were a free throw festival in which only the Italians missed. Sani Becirovic scored a perfect 6-of-6 which sealed Olimpija's fifth victory.
"We knew that Benetton would be a hard rival to defeat, and we could tell that even more during the game," Olimpia coach Zmago Sagadin said. "We gained a very important victory thanks to Becirovic's free throws, which allows us to confront the upcoming games more relaxed."
Benetton coach Pier Luigi Bucchi could not hide his disappointment.
"Of course I'm not happy with this defeat," he said. "We deserved it. We have played very well during the third quarter but when the last minutes came, it seemed my players didn't know what to do with the ball in their hands. The only thing I can do is to congratulate the winner. They have a great team for the future."
One of those young stars, Sani Becirovic, finished with 19 points to lead all scorers. Welsch added 15 for Olimpia. On Benetton's side, Garbajosa managed 18 points in less than 20 minutes on the floor.
As for the decisive free throws, Becirovic said: "We knew that they were going to commit all the fouls on me. We expected that if the game was to be one with a tight finish. I'm happy that the pressure didn't affect my game at all."
Thursday, December 7, 2000
Ziga Bojc, Sta, Ljubljana