Ulker has made what could prove to be a big move in Group C by taking off in the second half for a resounding 105-78 victory in Istanbul on Thursday over visiting Virtus Bologna. The outcome not only lifted Ulker's record to 3-2, but pulled Virtus down to the same and halted the three-game winning streak of the Italian visitors. The same new trio that has driven Ulker all season did the job on Thursday as Melvin Booker and Joseph Blair scored 24 points each and Virginius Praskevicius 21 for the winners, while Serkan Erdogan and Harun Erdenay popped 11 each. Blair doubled up with another dominant show of 15 rebounds under the rims, where Ulker dominated 35-25 overall, with Praskevicius getting 8 more and Booker 5. For Virtus, which trailed by just 1 point at the half, Alessandro Frosini led the scoring with 21 points, Charlie Bell had 20 and Derrick Dial 12.
After Efes stole a win at Skipper on Wednesday, this was the second matchup of the week between a Turkish team and one from Bologna. This one, too, started with speedy basketball, as both teams preferred a fast pace that put the players on the run. Erdenay, Ulker's captain, hit the first basket after 15 seconds, a three-pointer that put him over 7,000 points for his career. Ulker thrived on fastbreaks enough to rattle off a nine-point lead, 21-12, on a Haluk Yildirim layup after 6 minutes. Virtus Bologna struggled to get centers Dejan Koturovic and Frosini started inside, but Bell did a great job with his long-range shots. His consecutive three-pointers were enough to complete a 2-12 run that actually put Virtus in the lead at 23-24, before a pair of free throws from Blair allowed Ulker to at least finish the quarter ahead, 25-24.
It was a much tougher defensive game in the second quarter. Virtus buckled down better than Ulker and took the control of the match once again after 14 minutes on a three-parter from Antoine Rigadeau that put the scoreboard at 33-35. Center David Andersen, just back from injury, was the man stopping Ulker from scoring inside and also helped Virtus on offense, with an inside shot to make it 35-39. Erdenay came on the floor and stopped Ulker's scoreless streak with a three-pointer, and by the end of the quarter, Blair was driving to the hoop for a layup that returned the lead to the Istanbul side, 46-45. Blair and Booker each had 10 points already, but Bell was the main offensive force with 16 for Virtus.
It was an attractive and spectacular third period in Istanbul as both teams exercised patience and cool to try to take charge of the game. An alley-oop thrown down by Blair was answered by a Derrick Dial three-pointer in the 24th minute. Virtus guards Bell and Dial were making everything they could while Blair and Erdenay were standing against them. With another inside drive by Blair, Ulker had a six-point lead, 66-60, after 28 minutes, to which Booker added a fastbreak layup after a Virtus turnover. Booker also ended the quarter with three pointer that gave the home side a 73-64 advantage going into the final period.
Those final 10 minutes were all Ulker. Blair started it off with another basket for 75-64 that would develop into a 10-2 run that blew the game open. Virtus struggled to match the mood and to get to the basket, and the result was a long decline. Meanwhile, someone who had been relatively silent until then, Praskevicius, hit a three-pointer to signal his willingness to carry the late scoring load. That made it 83-66, and Ulker at least would score a lot more in the final 8 minutes. Back-to-back threes from Praskevicius and Booker set the crowd to celebrating the high moment, a 29-point advantage with 2 minutes left, and a sure move up in Group C.
Thursday, November 7, 2002