Two-time defending champion Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv clinched first place in Top 16 Group E by thrashing Ulker 66-88 on the road in Istanbul, Turkey on Thursday. The victory left Maccabi with a 5-1 record, while the team it was tied with before Thursday, Real Madrid, fell to 4-2 in defeat against Climamio Bologna. As such, Maccabi will have homecourt advantage when it faces Olympiacos, the second-place team from Group D, in the Quarterfinal Playoffs. Madrid will go against archrivals Winterthur FC Barcelona. Ulker finished 1-5 and last in the group, and could not win in the debut of coach Murat Oyzen. Maceo Baston led Maccabi with 25 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 6 of 6 free throws. Anthony Parker and Sharon Shason each had 14 points for Maccabi, who lost center Nikola Vujcic midway through the first period due to a back injury. Vrbica Stefanov led Ulker with 14 points, Mirsad Turkcan and Omer Onan each had 13 while Oguz Savas added 10 for the hosts. Maccabi led 52-63 after 30 minutes and used a 0-15 run in the final period to win the game and get the homecourt advantage in the best-of-three playoffs.
Baston won the opening tip and soon made free throws for a 0-2 Maccabi lead. Ulker did not panic, as Turkcan had he big block on Baston while Omer Onan hit a triple which Vujcic matched in the other end to keep Maccabi in charge, 3-5. Turkcan joined the three-point festival and soon added a six-meter jumper to put Ulker back in charge, 8-5. Parker stepped up with consecutive jumpers while Baston provided a highlight with a huge dunk to give Maccabi a three-point lead, 8-11. Onan hit a triple for Ulker to tie, 11-11, after Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic left the game with back problems. His replacement, Jamie Arnold, had a tip-in to restore Maccabi's lead at 11-13. Vrbica Stefanov hit free throws and then followed Tal Burstein's five-meter jumper with a floating layup for a 15-15 tie. Oguz Savas and Arnold exchanged baskets, while Burstein added an easy layup for a 17-19 Maccabi edge. However, Stefanov shined with a corner three that allowed Ulker to regain the lead, 20-19, after one quarter.
To start the second quarter, Savas worked well in the low post to hit a jump hook, but Arnold matched it with a bank shot for the guests. Yaniv Green stepped up with a high-flying tip-in and then dunked to give Maccabi a 22-25 edge after a 0-6 run. Turkcan buried his second triple but Will Solomon followed Parker's dunk with a layup in transition to make it 25-29 and force an Ulker timeout. Robert Gulyas made his trademark hook shot to change the Ulker momentum but a red-hot Green dunked it again while Sharon Shason added a fastbreak layup to make it a six-point game, 27-33. Baston scored a tough basket in the paint and followed it with a huge dunk to boost the guests' margin to double digits, 27-37. Onan fired in his third triple, while Shason and Turkcan also hit from downtown as Ulker got within 33-40. But Baston - who else? - shined with another dunk to take Maccabi to a 35-42 halftime advantage.
Both teams struggled to score after the break until Ibrahim Kutluay buried a corner three - his first points - to bring Ulker within 38-42 after 22 minutes. Burstein rescued Maccabi with a jumper while Solomon hit free throws in a 0-8 Maccabi run which Parker highlighted with a fast break layup. Sharp scored off a midcourt steal to force a quick Ulker timeout, 38-50. Stefanov tried to change things with 4 quick points on a layup and free throws but Sharp answered from downtown to restore a 11-point Maccabi lead, 42-53. The guests forced a 24-second violation which allowed Baston to hit a short jumper. Ulker kept attacking the basket, as Turkcan drew Green's fourth foul and made free throws for a 44-55 deficit. Baston kept pacing Maccabi with free throws and a driving layup, but free throws by Stefanov, Bekir Yarangume and Drago Pasalic brought the hosts within 49-61. Foul shots by Baston and a corner three by Jeff Trepganier fixed the score at 52-63 after 30 minutes.
Parker got Maccabi going in the final period with a short jumper, as the guests kept trying to extend their margin to finish first in this group. Savas stepped up with a layup-plus-foul and Stefanov hit a free throw which bring Ulker within single digits, 56-65. Shason took over with a triple, igniting a 0-6 Maccabi run which Sharp capped with a driving layup, good for a 56-71 lead. Onan nailed a corner three-pointer which a red hot Shason matched in the other end, while Solomon fed Baston for a reverse layup which made it a 17-point game, 59-76. Ulker called timeout but Sharp scored again and Baston buried a big triple which extended the guests' margin even more, 59-81. The hosts struggled to score now, while Maccabi was unstoppable. Parker scored in transition while Shason capped a 0-15 run with an open triple, good for a 59-86. Nothing changed in the final minutes, as Maccabi stayed focused and cruised to a massive road win.
Thursday, March 30, 2006