Panathinaikos kept a drive for second place alive and denied Ulker a Top 16 pass when it won their Group C matchup 79-72 at home in Athens on Thursday. A 19-7 run in the third quarter put the Greens in charge for good and raised their record to 7-5. The Greens have two road games left due to a replay of their Week 11 encounter with Opel Skyliners, scheduled for Monday in Frankfurt. They finish the regular season in Pau two days later. Ulker, now 6-7, must win its last home game, against Tau Ceramica, or hope that either Unicaja or Scavolini lose in order to reach the Top 16. Jaka Lakovic led Panathinaikos with 18 points. Fragiskos Alvertis added 13 points and Patrick Femerling 11 for the winners. Ulker got 18 points from Serkan Erdogan, 15 from Dion Glover. Eurelijus Zukauskas added 13 points and 10 rebounds for Ulker.
Having been assured its own passage to the Top 16 by another result 24 hours earlier, Panathinaikos hit the floor without pressure and raced to leads of 6-1 and 12-3 based on back-to-back three-pointers by Dimitris Diamantidis and Kostas Tsartsaris. But Panathinaikos relaxed then, and behind 6 consecutive points by Glover, Ulker got back in the game at 12-9 after 7 minutes. Diamantidis connected with another shot from downtown, which along with the defense of the hosts, was enough to keep Panathinaikos in charge at 16-12 after 10 minutes.
The second period was a pure battle between the big men Femerling and Zukauskas, who scored 7 and 8 points, respectively, in the quarter, noteworthy in a low-scoring half. Zukauskas scored 6 of his points in succession before little-used Ersan Ilyasova blasted a three-pointer that gave Ulker a 23-23 tie in minute 17. Before that minute ended, Erdogan was making one from downtown for a 25-26 Ulker lead. The Greens reacted scoring from both the perimeter and the paint, as Lakovic and Vlado Scepanovic fired up the crowd with triples to start and finish a 12-4 run that put Panathinaikos ahead 39-31. But seconds still remained in the half, and that was enough for Erdogan, to beat the buzzer with his own three-pointer, cutting the difference to 39-34 after 20 minutes.
The second half started like the first, as Panathinaikos got it started for a 41-34 lead, but Ulker didn't give up. With 5 consecutive points by Erdogan and important outside help from Kerem Tunceri, the visitors roared back to take a 41-43 lead. However, Panathinaikos found offensive solutions in Fragiskos Alvertis and Lakovic, the players who turned the game around. Alvertis scored 5 points and Lakovic 8 of his 18 points in the third quarter, helping Panathinaikos not only take back the scoreboard, but do so with a double-digit lead, 60-50, showing after 30 minutes.
Panathinaikos was in full control early in the final quarter as a jumper by Lakovic and a thunderous dunk by Nikos Hatzivrettas pushed the lead to 71-54. Ulker tried to react in the last minutes, but the best it could do was cut the margin to 7 points late in the game. Glover continued to score, but he seemed to be Ulker's only decent solution offensively. Panathinaikos relied on its experience and home advantage while hitting some important free throws to celebrate its seventh victory.
Thursday, February 3, 2005
Kostas Sotiriou, Athens