LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne arrived to play FC Barcelona on Friday boasting a five-game winning streak, unprecedented by a French team in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, and ready to challenge the standings leader on a court that had been anything but friendly to the French powerhouse this century.
ASVEL's last win at Palau Blaugrana had come on October 16, 1996, in a narrow 78-81 decision behind 35 points from club legend Delaney Rudd. Later that season, both teams met again in the 1997 EuroLeague semifinals, and Barcelona prevailed 77-70 with 17 points from Sasa Djordjevic.
So it was on Friday that, almost a quarter-century later, ASVEL got revenge by beating Barcelona 69-76. ASVEL kept the game close for 35 minutes and took off midway through the fourth quarter to record a truly historical win. Its hustle play – 9 offensive rebounds, 9 steals, 4 blocks and several dunks – made the difference, too. With the victory, ASVEL joined Anadolu Efes Istanbul as just the second team to have defeated Barcelona twice this season.
"The value of this win is I don't think many teams can say they beat Barcelona twice this year, and that is what we did," ASVEL head coach TJ Parker said after the game. "I told them we have to hang in there, hang in there, hang in there, and in the fourth quarter, you never know what can happen. And this is exactly what happened."
ASVEL definitely hung in there after trailing 54-51 late in the third quarter. David Lighty beat the third-quarter buzzer with a three-pointer, igniting a 0-7 run that he capped with a jumper for a 54-58 ASVEL advantage early in the fourth. Brandon Davies revived Barcelona with a pair baskets good for a 58-58 tie, but that's when ASVEL took full control of the game. Norris Cole buried a three-pointer and William Howard copied him right after that, putting ASVEL ahead for good, 58-64. Moustapha Fall followed a dunk with a critical three-point play, and Norris Cole made sure his team sealed the win, scoring 4 of 4 free throws in the final 37 seconds.
"We knew the game was going to be close, that it was going to come down to the last minutes. It is my job to make sure we close the games out the right way. Our team did a good job by fighting together, and we got a good team win," Cole said after the game. "We executed the game plan and limited their threes."
Indeed, Barcelona managed to attempt just 13 three-point shots on Friday, its second-lowest total this season. The lowest was in its previous loss to ASVEL, in their late-November Round 11 game, when Barcelona got off just 8 tries from the arc.
ASVEL's own three-point accuracy has been a theme during the team's resurgence. ASVEL had been hitting 38.8% of its three-point shots (171 of 441) before its current six-game winning streak, but is making 46.9% (54-of-115) during it. William Howard has to do a lot with that, having 11 of 19 threes (57.9%) during the streak. He ranks second in three-point accuracy in the EuroLeague this season (26-of-45, 57.8%), trailing only Barcelona's Kyle Kuric (58.1%).
Howard was ambitious after the game. "We are on a good winning streak so we are trying to keep going," he said. "And hopefully we can be in the top eight and make the playoffs."