The Euroleague's highest-powered offense put a resounding finish to a home winning streak on Wednesday when Benetton Treviso invaded Zagreb for a 71-100 Group A victory over Cibona VIP. Benetton, now 9-2, sent a warning by stomping the Croatian champs on the same floor where co-leader Barcelona lost its undefeated status earlier this season. Benetton hosts Barcelona next week with first place in Group B basically going to the winner. Cibona lost for the first time at home this season and saw its record drop to 5-6 but still remains on course to reach the Top 16. Benetton barely gave Cibona a chance on its own court, rolling to an 18-point lead at the half that hit 26 after three quarters and 38 late in the game. Cibona didn't help itself by missing 18 of 35 free throws, but those might not really have mattered. Point guard Tyus Edney was back in his normal, unstoppable form for Benetton with 22 points and 7 assists in 25 minutes, while five other visitors scored in double figures: Trajan Langdon with 17, Marcelo Nicola with 14, Jorge Garbajosa and Riccardo Pittis with 11 each and Massimo Bulleri with 19. Pittis added 8 assists and 5 steals. For Cibona, Matej Mamic had 15 points, Tomislav Ruzic 14 and Marijan Mance 10.
Actually, things did not look that bad for Cibona until 3 minutes before the end of the first quarter. Slaven Rimac had 5 points and Cibona led 17-11 when Benetton coach Ettore Messina called for a time out. What followed was a complete blitz, and by the time Cibona picked up the pieces it was too late. The boat was full of holes and rapidly sinking. There was no way for a comeback. Edney with 3 points and Langdon with 5 ignited a 31-7 run that bridged first and second quarters. Nicola and Pittis joined the party, and what looked like a good game in theory suddenly became a one-way street. Cibona scored only 7 points in the first 7 minutes of the second quarter, missing all 6 of its three-point attempts, as Benetton took a 51-33 lead at the half.
Things only got worse for Cibona in the third quarter, or better for Benetton. The visitors surged ahead by 30, pouring in shots from all corners of the court, scoring easy fastbreaks and connecting on 68% of their two-points shots. Benetton missed its first 4 three-point attempts, but by the end of the third quarter found the range and drilled in 7 of 11. Just like in Istanbul a week before, where it lost by 34 to Efes Pilsen, Cibona broke in the second quarter and never recovered. Cibona's biggest European defeat remains one by 40 points against Knorr Bologna many years ago, but only Messina emptying the bench at 98-60 and letting Cibona finish up with some points avoided a new record. The two losses over eight days for Cibona nonetheless added up to 63 points. Cibona is still not out of the race for the Top 16, but the Croatians will have to improve dramatically if they want to be there.
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
Neven Berticevic, Sportske Novosti, Zagreb