Benetton got revenge against Barcelona from last season's loss in the championship game of the Final Four with a dominating 88-72 win in the last game of the Top 16 on Thursday. But despite Benetton's superlative performance, it will not be headed back to the Final Four because Italian League rival Montepaschi Siena triumphed in Group F. Benetton ends the Top 16 with a 4-2 record, the same as Montepaschi, but had a smaller victory in the two games they split. Barcelona finished 2-4. Tyus Edney scored 18 points and dished out 5 assists to lead Benetton, which also got 15 points from Jorge Garbajosa, 14 from Maurice Evans, 12 from Massimo Bulleri and 11 with 8 rebounds from Denis Marconato. Barcelona was lead by the shooting of Juan Carlos Navarro, the game's high-scorer with 20 points, while Dejan Bodiroga had 13 and both Patrick Femerling and Vlado Ilievski finished with 11 points. After Benetton took a 10 point lead in the first quarter, Barcelona battled back and went into halftime with the lead. Benetton overpowered Barca throughout the second half and stifled its guests with a stingy 2-3 zone defense.
Very strong defenses limited the score in the initial minutes, with Ricky Pittis and Denis Marconato trying to take Bodiroga and Roberto Dueñas out of the game. After a basket by Ilievski, Evans opened the fire from three-point land and Garbajosa brought the score to 6-2 with a three-point play in transition in the third minute. Barcellona struggled to find its rhythm against Benetton's tough defense in the opening minutes, but Vlado Ilievski woke up his teammates with a triple. Dueñas quickly followed with a nice fadeaway, but Massimo Bulleri gave Benetton a boost off the bench, dishing an assist than nailing a three-pointer that made the score 16-6 for Benetton. A three-point play by Bodiroga was Barcelona's answer, but Bulleri scored again from three-point range and and Tyus Edney gave Benetton its first double digit lead of the night. Two free throws apiece for Edney and Femerling brought the score on 23-13 for the end of the first quarter, with Benetton seemingly in control and Barcelona still trying to find its game.
Benetton went to a 2-3 zone to start the second quarter, Barca found an answer in "la bomba", Juan Carlos Navarro. After his coming in the game, Navarro led Barcelona back to within 3 points until Bulleri nailed a pull up jumper to make it 25-20. Benetton turned to Edney for leadership, but the American guard responded with a turnover and ill-advised shots, which gave Barca room to close the gap further. Indeed, another three-pointer by Navarro, followed by a long distance bomb by Rodriguez gave Barcelona its first lead, 25-26, rounding out a 2-13 partial. Coach Svetislav Pesic responded to Benetton's zone with a small lineup with Bodiroga at the 4, and the move resulted in triples from Ilievski and Navarro. Benetton stayed close behind free throws from Garbajosa and a drive by Edney, and the Italians closed the half behind 36-37 after another Edney penetration resulted in an open jumper by Marconato.
Benetton came out from the locker room with an intensity not seen during the first half. Tyus Edney quickly gave Benetton the lead, 38-37, with a pull up jumper in transition. On the other end, Barcelona couldn't find answers for Benetton's zone, as only Bodiroga found room to score. Barcelona relied on long range shots, but this time it couldn't find the bottom of the net. Meanwhile, Garbajosa coolly made two three pointers to give Benetton a 50-41 edge in the 23rd minute. A time out by Pesic did not do much to solve the situation for the Spanish, as Pittis denied Barca's only reliable source, Dejan Bodiroga. Tyus Edney started to attack the Barcelona man to man defense, creating easy shots for Marconato, Evans and Pittis and Benetton quickly grabbed a commanding 58-43 lead with three minutes left in the quarter. Navarro finally found a three-pointer but with Bodiroga on the bench with three fouls, Barcelona couldn't create any momentum. Giovannoni and Dreier exchanced triples, making the score 64-50 in the 28th minute. Nicola closed the quarter with an off-balanced shot from the free throw line to make it 68-52 after 30 minutes.
Barcelona's hopes of coming back were looking increasing bleak at the start of the fourth quarter. Bodiroga quickly picked up his fourth foul and Benetton's lead remained formidable at 70-56 after Navarro's rainbow jumper. Benetton's zone defense continued to stifle the guests, while Pittis and Bulleri created offensive opportunity for Benetton. With Benetton controlling the tempo, Bulleri reeled off 5 consecutive points to give Benetton a 78-63 edge. Barcelona's final strike was a triple by Rodriguez, but he and Evans were soon after whistled for a double technical foul and Barcelona could not create the momentum it needed. A dunk by Varejao, two free throws by Tyus Edney and the final basket by Evans set the final score on Benetton 88, Barcelona 72.
Thursday, April 8, 2004
Alessandro Toso, Treviso, Italy