The surprise team of the Euroleague season wasn't going to wait any longer to confirm its passage to the Top 16. Before its appreciative fans in Ljubljana on Thursday, Union Olimpia turned back visiting Zalgiris Kaunas 76-55 to qualify for the next round. Olimpija blew the game open with a 22-2 blitz in the third quarter and that was too much for Zalgiris, who made a similar run in the first half, to recover from. The victory raised Olimpija's record to 8-3, keeping it in lockstep with defending champion Panathinaikos and mighty Tau Ceramica at the top of Group B. At the same time, Zalgiris saw its options to advance practically vanish by dropping to 3-8. Marino Bazdaric led the hosts with 23 points and hit 4 of 6 three-pointers. Goran Jurak added 15 points - 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals - and Pero Dujmovic 10 points for Olimpija. For Zalgiris, Saulius Stombergas led the way with 17 points while Kornel David added 16, plus 10 rebounds and 3 blocks. However, the visitors managed to hit only 3 of 17 three-pointers and committed 22 turnovers, a dozen more than Olimpija.
The game was only fast during the first 2 or 3 minutes, but when the teams saw that the fastbreaks were not the solution, the attacks started to become longer against solid defenses, and the strategic play began. Defense was the trend of the game, and baskets were scarce in a game that was tied at 6-6 in minute 7. Olimpija coach Tomo Mahoric called a timeout that changed the face of his team. First arrived a three by Vlatko Ilievski, followed by another one from Marino Bazdaric. After that, it was Antanas Sireika who called the timeout, but it didn't have any effect on Zalgiris' players, as Roberts Stelmahers hit 4 straight points for a 13-0 run that forged a 19-6 in minute 9. Zalgiris answered with a 0-7 in the last 90 seconds of the period, and made it 19-13 after 10 minutes.
With the start of the second quarter, the run of the guests went on, at the same time as Union Olimpija didn't find easy shots. Kornel David and Saulius Stombergas hurt the hosts, who had a 7-point deficit in minute 17, 21-28. In the end, the run of Zalgiris added up to 2-22, as the guests only allowed one basket by Goran Jurak during 8 minutes and a half. But another timeout by Mahoric turned the game upside down again. The hosts improved their defense but offense was the better part of the game now for Olimpija, who managed to neutralize the deficit and jump ahead 32-30 at the break, thanks to the 3-for-3 threes by Bazdaric, who ended the first 20 minutes with 15 points.
In the second half it was Zalgiris' turn to get its medicine. Union Olimpija started well with 8 points from Dujmovic and a triple by Bazdaric that forged a 13-point lead for the hosts, 43-30, in minute 27. From that point, the hosts started to accumulate exactly the same 22-2 run they had received in the first half to break the game open. Zalgiris was only allowed to score 7 points in the period, and after 30 minutes Union Olimpija was leading by 54-37. Under these conditions, the last 10 minutes were only a formality as Sireika's men couldn't do much against a Union Olimpija that reached a maximum lead of 24 points in minute 38, 71-47.
Thursday, January 16, 2003
Ziga Bojc, Ljubljana