On a night of incredibly electric basketball in Athens, the biggest upset of the Top 16 could not have come at a worst time for Olympiakos of Greece, whose Final Four chances were compromised when visiting Union Olimpija posted an astonishing 85-89 Group G victory at Peace and Friendship Stadium. It was the very first victory of the Top 16 for Olimpija (1-4) and dropped Olympiakos (3-2) into second place behind its archrival, Panathinaikos (4-1), which was simultaneously winning in overtime against AEK. As things stand, Panathinaikos will qualify next week if it wins against Olimpija in Slovenia next week or if Olympiakos loses. Olympiakos can only make the Final Four now if it beats AEK and Panathinaikos loses. The Reds and their fans will hope that Beno Udrih comes to play against Panathinaikos as he did at the end on Thursday. Udrih scored 16 of Olimpija's final 23 points and was the killer in overtime of the home team's dream. He finished with 29 points, outdoing Euroleague leading scorer Alphonso Ford, who had 21 for Olympiakos.
Following its return to glory in the the Greek Cup, Olympiakos needed some minutes to find its path against Olimpija. The Slovenians, on their fourth visit of the season to Athens, took a lead, 9-10, but the Reds managed an 8-0 run that was good enough to close the first period 17-10 for the home team. Olympiakos had been without its anchors, Ford and Forest, for much of that time, as they went to the bench two personal fouls each early in the action. Veteran Jure Zdovc tried from the very first moment to stop Ford, but Olympiakos had more alternatives in offense and found some opportunities to run the court.
For the beginning of the second quarter, Olimpija coach Zmago Sagadin put in a zone defense, but Olympiakos boosted its run to 11-0 and its lead to 20-10 with the Reds posting up to use their superiority under the boards. Big men Alexey Savrasenko and Ignacio De Miguel took a lot of shots, while Olimpija pursued its business as usual, shooting three-pointers. Jiri Welsh, who didn't play during the first quarter, helped his team to find a good balance and Zdovc came up big two minutes before the end of the first half to sink another three-pointer, good enough to cut the Olympiakos margin to 30-28. Olympiakos has lost its aggressiveness and spirit, something that Olimpija took advantage of with a lineup based on athletic guards and forwards. A half a minute before the break, Welsh scored a pair of free throws to tie the game, 34-34, which didn't change in the remaining time. At the end of the half, De Miguel was leading all scorers with 12 points. Jurica Golemac and Udrih had 7 each for Olimpija.
Vladimir Boisa brought Olimpija two points ahead, at 34-36, to start the second half, as Olympiakos looked a little sleepy. The versatil and fast Slovenian side controlled the tempo of the game and didn't allow Olympiakos to run and to be efficient in offense. Theodoros Papaloukas hit the very first three-pointer of the game for Olympiakos, after 23 minutes of play, to put his team ahead 40-38, but an Olimpija run of 0-5 brought the visitors back in front, 40-43. Olympiakos coach Lefteris Subotic returned to his three-guard structure, using Ford, Papaloukas and Nikos Boudouris together, looking for versatility and better passing. Boisa went out with five personal fouls and Forrest committed his fourth as Olimpija stayed ahead. De Miguel tied the game 50-50 and Boudouris, the hero of the Greek Cup semifinal against Panathinaikos, sank a three pointer for 53-50, then stole the ball and he managed to secure a short advantage for his team. Olympiakos seemed to have broken its visitors with a 9-0 in less than two minutes for a 57-50 lead. But Golemac hit a three-pointer, and the lead was down to 57-53 for the Reds at the end of the third quarter.
Olympiakos tried to add to its lead, but the Slovenians didn't raise their hands. Despite having no chance to make the Final Four, the visitors combined a perfect passing game and quickness to forge a 4-11 run and tie the game 61-61 after 33 minutes. Olympiakos seized another four-point lead, 68-64, but Olimpija brushed off Golemac's departure with fouls and in less than a minute ran off 7 unanswered points for a 68-71 lead. With 3 minutes left, it was already a thriller. Ford scored for 70-71, but Udrih with his second consecutive three-pointer gave Olimpija a four-point lead, 70-74. Udrich then missed two free throws, De Miguel left the court after his fifth personal foul, Ford scored a goal foul, 73-74 and then it was Udrih's turn on the foul line. He made 1 of 2 free throws for 73-75, then Milan Tomic tied it up with a baby jump shot, 75-75, just 40 seconds before the end. Stipe Modric missed a three-pointer to win it, as did Ford at the buzzer. Overtime.
In the extra time, Boudouris sank a three-pointer to put the Reds in charge at 78-75, but that was the last lead for Olympiakos. Udrih was a authentic killer for the Greek team, as he managed to score 16 out of the last 23 points for his team and alongside Welsh to lead Olimpija to its first victory after four consecutive losses. Udrih put Olimpija ahead by 5 points, 80-85, then he shot an airball. But Ford missed a layup and then Udrih sealed the triumph of the Slovenians, 85-89.
Wednesday, April 3, 2002