Benetton Treviso secured a second-place finish in Group A with a 72-77 road win on Wednesday that ended the dream of Idea Slask to become the first Polish team in the Top 16. Benetton went ahead early on and kept a lead the entire game, but Slask gave Benetton a scare, pulling within one-point during the fourth quarter. The hosts couldn't close the deal in the final minute, however, and finished in sixth place at 6-8. Teams in other groups would have to lose on Thursday by 49 points or more for Slask to realize its remote mathematical chances to become the last Top 16 qualifier as best sixth-place team overall. Benetton, meanwhile, finished 10-4, tied on victories with first-place Efes Pilsen, but the loser in the tiebreaker between them due to a -2 disadvantage on points in their head-to-head matches. Jorge Garbajosa had 20 points in 24 minutes to lead Benetton, while Germaine Jackson scored 13 and dished out 5 assists. Marcelo Nicola added 11 points and Maurice Evans 10 for Benetton, which played without point guard Tyus Edney. For Slask, Lynn Greer bounced back from a slow first half to finish with 21 points, while Ryan Randle scored 19 points on 8 of 8 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds. Dominik Tomczyk was Slask's only other scorer to reach double figures with 11 points and 8 rebounds.
Jackson set up Garbajosa for a game-opening three-pointer and Benetton quickly went up 2-6 when Denis Marconato made a three-point play. Idea stayed close on outside jumpers by Greer and Adam Wojcik, and pulled to within 9-10 after Randle scored 4 quick points. Benetton's Evans and Jackson were struggling to find the bottom of the net, but Garbajosa scored 5 straight points midway through the quarter to put the guests ahead 9-13. Benetton's youngest player, forward Andrea Bargnani, gave his team its first significant lead, 9-18, after scoring five straight points in the 8th minute, but Randle responded with another basket that cut the Idea deficit to 7 points. Evans first basket of the quarter made the score 11-20, but Tanel Tein and Michel Ignerski nailed back-to-back triples, making the score 17-20 at the end of the first quarter.
Evans had a hot hand to open the second quarter and Benetton opened a 19-28 lead after his third basket in 3 minutes. Randle continued to fight around the basket, but Garbajosa gave Benetton its biggest lead yet, 19-33, by draining his third triple in 3 attempts and adding 2 free throws. Both teams went cold for the next 2 minutes, but Slask pulled to within 22-33 after a Tein layup and Wojcik free throw. Missed shots and fouls were the rule on both sides, but again Slask used a run at the end of the second quarter to cut into Benetton's lead. Randle was decisive, scoring 2 baskets in the final 2 minutes to give Slask a fighting chance, behind 29-36, at halftime.
As the first half ended, the second began. Randle rebounded Wojcik's miss and scored in the opening minute. Greer scored just his sixth point to pull Slask within 33-36. Benetton didn't let go of the reins, however, as Guilherme Giovannoni and Marcelo Nicola combined for 6 points and a 35-44 lead after 24 minutes. Giovannoni continued to spark Benetton offensively, drilling another triple, but Slask and Randle wouldn't go away. Randle, who hadn't missed a shot all night, nailed 2 free throws and a jumper. Benetton responded with buckets by Garbajosa and Jackson, but triples by Tomczyk and Tein, then 2 free throws by Greer, made the score 51-54 after 30 minutes.
Slask continued its assault to begin the fourth quarter as Maciej Zielinski ripped an offensive rebound, got fouled trying to put it back and nailed his free throws, cutting Benetton's lead to 53-54. Jackson responded with a triple that gave Benetton some breathing room but soon Greer scored in transition to knot the score at 57-57. Benetton took back the lead on baskets from Garbajosa and Nicola but Slask refused to quit. Tomczyk made his second three-pointer of the night and Greer copied him for a 63-65 scoreboard. Back and forth went the score and Slask pulled within a single point two times on baskets from Tomczyk and Greer but Benetton kept a slight edge thanks to hoops from Marconato and Nicola. Trailing 68-71 with 2 minutes to play, Slask continued to fire away from three-point range. Those shots didn't fall, however, and Nicola made the hosts pay by burying 4 consecutive free throws to boost Benetton's lead to 68-75. Greer scored twice more, but those were the last points of the night - and effectively the season - for Slask. Evans closed out the game with free throws as Slask couldn't convert in the final minute and watched its chance to arrive in the Top 16 slip away.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Andrzej Jaworski, Wroclaw