The tight Group B standings got a tighter still on Wednesday when AEK hung on to beat Union Olimpija 76-75 in Athens despite a rally by the guests from 14 points down late in the third quarter. Sandro Nicevic's shot with 48 seconds left proved the game-winner after Vladimer Boisa of Olimpija missed twice inside on the game's last play before buzzer sounded. AEK raised its record to 3-4 and looks forward to the second half of the regular season from no worse than a sixth-place tie with Olimpija. Nikos Hatzis led the winners with 17 points, but was joined in double figures by Nikos Zizis with 16, Nicevic with 12 and Pero Antic with 10. For Olimpija, Marino Bazdaric played the whole game, scoring 27 points and pulling 9 rebounds, while Boisa added 17 points, but no other visitor reached double digits.
The two teams started the game sharing three airballs, but then the top scorers of each nailed baskets; Boisa an easy jumper and Hatzis a triple from the corner for a 3-2 lead. The game continued to run in an up-tempo style, but both teams suffered from bad decisions, before bringing the ball to the paint. Boisa and Zisis scored as AEK stayed up 8-6. The hosts tried to find some easy fastbreak layups, but Olimpija was not ready to allow AEK to run-and-gun. Bazdaric chipped in a three to make it 8-9 for the visitors before Nicevic to come off the bench to scored on his first touch. Nicevic added 2 more baskets to lead AEK to a 16-13 advantage at the end of the first quarter in which Bazdaric, with 7 points, was the only other player who found scoring easy.
The second period began as the previous ended, with Nicevic dominant at the offensive end, following up a pair of misses against his former team to push AEK ahead 23-15. Reserve forward Dragisa Drobnjak, Bazdaric and Boisa kept AEK from running away. Although AEK steadily improved its passing and transition game, it also started to suffer Olimpija fastbreaks or quick attacks. AEK got a bench boost from Pero Antic, a defensive replacement whose triple nonetheless made it 33-25. Toby Bailey's first basket after 7 misses was a triple, too, pushing AEK ahead by double digits for the first time, 36-26. Bazdaric stayed connected to the basket, however, answering with a great three from downtown to keep the difference under 10 points, at 38-29, as the teams hit the break.
Olimpija started the third quarter more focused. A fastbreak by Andres Rodriguez and a triple by Saso Ozbolt quickly cut the margin to five points, but AEK got what it needed with a great basket-plus-free throw by Zisis. When 5 consecutive points by Dusan Bocevski made it 45-41, AEK again answered back immediately. Hatzis made a rare four-point-play with a triple-plus-free throw and Davor Kus added foul shots for the highest lead yet, 12 points at 55-43. Olimpija looked to pass inside, but Antic defended the middle superbly. By the time Hatzis popped in his fourth triple, the AEK lead was up to 59-45 after 28 minutes. Outside scoring punctuated by Boisa's three-pointer and mid-range jumper by Bazdaric stopped AEK's rally in time for Olimpija to reach the end of the third quarter with only 10 points to make up, down 63-53.
Ozbolt's steal and basket-plus-free throw to open the final quarter put Olimpija back in the game at 63-56. Giannis Bouroussis answered inside for AEK, but then Ozbolt repeated his previous play to draw Olimpija within 65-59. Working against a zone by the visitors, Lollis pushed AEK up 68-59 while Bazdaric and Zisis tradeded baskets. That is when Olimpija exploded, however. Bazdaric, who played all 40 minutes, scored 2 triples among his 8 points in a 2-14 run that saw Olimpija seize a 74-75 advantage with 1:07 left to play. Nicevic, who had been sidelined with foul trouble, came off the bench then and kept his nerve by scoring the go-ahead basket for 76-75 with 48 secondsleft. Both teams missed their next attacks, leaving Olimpija with the ball and 10 seconds to go. Rodriguez dished inside to Boisa who missed, grabbed the offensive rebound, and missed again at the buzzer, meaning that AEK had its third win in four games, 76-75.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Stelios Kyriakoglou, Athens