Despite injuries to two starters, Panathinaikos of Athens avenged its only loss of the season on Wendesday with a 98-92 Group C victory over visiting Krka of Novo Mesto. The victory all but guarantees Panathinaikos (11-1) first place in Group C and practically forces Krka (5-7) to have to win the remaining two games to have any chance at the Top 16. The visitors stayed as close as they could have hoped early, but a trio of Panathinaikos vets - Dejan Bodiroga, Darryl Middleton and Johnny Rogers - marked the difference in the middle quarters for the Greens, who were missing backcourt leader Damir Mulaomerovic and center Giannis Giannoulis. Bodiroga scored 19 of his floor-high 25 points in the second half, after Middleton and Rogers had delivered the Greens a seven-point lead with nine points each in the second quarter. Corey Albano added 15 points for the winners. Rogers finished with 11, as did Lazaros Papadopoulos and yet another veteran, Fragiskos Alvertis. Krka suffered most of its foul trouble in that second quarter, but Mate Skelin came back to finish with 21 points. Boris Gnjidic had 17 for the losers, but only two after halftime. Jaka Lakovic added 15 and Samo Grum 12 for Krka.
Panathinaikos tried to force its own tempo on the game, but Krka was too hard to dictate to, at least in the first quarter. Samo Grum played excellent defense on Dejan Bodiroga, the same as Pepe Sanchez did against Jaka Lakovic. Both players together accumulated just 6 points (2 by Bodiroga, 4 by Lakovic) in the first period, and with Damir Mulaomerovic still injured back in Zagreb, the Greens didn't have many offensive alternatives. So the Slovenians, based on good defensive and offensive teamwork, managed to be very competitive. A very effective zone defense ordered by Neven Spahija sparked a 9-2 run, good enough to take a 17-19 lead. Panathinaikos was able to counter at the end of the first quarter, however, to lead by a single bucket, 23-21.
Two veteran players pushed Panathinaikos ahead in the second period. Johnny Rogers and Darryl Middleton scored nine points each, 18 total, during the quarter, providing the offensive answers Panathinaikos needed to open the gap. After 16 minutes, Panathinaikos took a 39-31 lead, but Boris Gnjidic came up big and with his third consecutive three-pointer cut the margin to 43-39. The Greens answered with a 5-0 run to take their highest lead, at nine points, 48-39, against Krka's man-to-man defense. First Sanchez and then Giannis Sioutis didn't allow Lakovic to score a single point in the second period, plus Krka had to face foul trouble as Gnjidic committed his fourth personal foul, Mate Skelin and Bennett Davison three each. At the end of the first half, Panathinaikos was ahead by seven, 50-43, while Gnjidic of Krka was leading all scorers with 15 points.
After two periods of silence, Bodiroga escaped from the jail of the Slovenian defense and found his usual scoring instict, to lead his team to double-digit margins. Bodiroga went off for 11 points in the quarter and the lead soared to 72-57 as the Greeens tried to accelerate the tempo, especially when Sanchez was on the court. Krka tried to stay competitive, but it was affected by foul trouble and the good defense Panathinaikos put against Gnjidic, who didn't score during the third quarter, which concluded with the home team up 70-60.
In the final quarter, Jaka Lakovic led his team to a 6-0 run to cut the margin in 76-70, but Bodiroga appeared once again as the answer man. He scored crucial points to secure the lead at 14 points, 92-78, three minutes before the end of the game. The Slovenians, led by an unstoppable Skelin, made an 8-0 run to close the margin to 92-85, but Ibrahim Kutluay and Bodiroga didn't allow them to be more dangerous. A tremendous dunk, made by Bennett Davison in an alley-hoop with Skelin, was the highlight of the game, but Krka could not surprise the Euroleague standardbearers for a second time this season.
Wednesday, January 30, 2002
Vassilis Skountis, Athens