Ulker took a huge step forwards to make it to the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs from Group D by beating Montepaschi Siena 85-71 at home in Istanbul, Turkey on Wednesday night. Both teams are now tied for the second place in Group D with a 2-3 record, but Ulker overcame its 13-point loss to Montepaschi in Siena and now depends on itself to make it to the next round. Ulker can seal its ticket to the playoffs if it beats Cibona VIP in Zagreb next week, or if Montepaschi loses next week at home to first-place Maccabi. Serkan Erdogan was the man of the game for Ulker, leading the winners with 32 points on 11-for-18 shooting and 8 of 8 free throws. Eurelijus Zukauskas posted a double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Dusan Vukcevic and Kerem Gonlum each added 13 for Ulker. Former Ulker player Efthimios Rentzias led Montepaschi with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting. Bootsy Thornton added 14 and David Vanterpool 10 for the guests. An unstoppable Erdogan helped Ulker to break the game early in the final period, and both teams fought for the tie-break advantage until the final second, but the hosts finally prevailed.
Thornton opened the scoring with a four-meter jumper, while Ulker surprised everyone with Praskevicius in the starting lineup. Erdogan nailed a triple and followed it with a reverse layup to give Ulker a 5-4 edge. Montepaschi was already struggling to score as Zukauskas dunked it and added a free throw on the following possession to boost the hosts' lead to 8-4 after 4 minutes. After Montepaschi called timeout, Vanterpool stepped on-court and immediately drilled a mid-range shot, but Erdogan fired in his second three-pointer, igniting a 7-0 run that he capped with another jumper to give Ulker its biggest lead so far, 15-6. Thornton found an uncontested layup and Vanterpool fed Rentzias for an open basket, but Erdogan was on fire, firing in another two-point shot to keep Ulker in charge, 17-10. Stefanov slashed for a tough layup while Vanterpool drilled a long jumper to cut the difference to 17-14, but Gonlum and Zukauskas stepped up with back-to-back bank shots in the paint, enough for Ulker to lead 21-14 after 10 minutes.
To start the second quarter, Montepaschi gave Ulker trouble with a 2-3 zone defense as Rentzias made a triple from the top and Thornton a floating jumper that brought the visitors within 23-19. Vanterpool added a fastbreak dunk to force an Ulker timeout at 23-21, as Montepaschi had only allowed 2 points in almost 4 minutes. The hosts tried to look for Gonlum and Zukauskas near the basket, but the guests carried on excelling in defense. Rentzias turned a layup into a three-point play to tie the game, 24-24. Erdogan came to the rescue with a running layup, while Gonlum followed an easy basket with free throws to put Ulker back in charge, 30-24. Both teams already already entered the foul bonus and Montepaschi got the most out of it. Thornton and Kakiouzis combined for 4 of 4 free throws, while Stefanov added a fastbreak layup to bring the guests within 31-30. A pick-and-roll in the high post allowed Gonlum to score in the paint and Erdogan added a layup in penetration, but a corner three by Mindaugas Zukauskas and free throws by Rentzias gave Montpaschi its first lead, 35-36, since the early going. Only late throws by Erdogan saved the lead for Ulker, 37-36, at halftime.
Zukauskas opened fire after the break for Ulker, while Montepaschi continued looking for Rentzias inside. Stefanov's coast-to-coast layup and Thornton's free throw after drawing Gonlum's fourth foul tied the score at 39-39. Vukcevic hurt his old team with a second-chance basket that kept Ulker ahead, as did Zukauskas after Rentzias tied again. Finally, however, Mindaugas Zukauskas nailed a three from the top to put Montepaschi ahead at 43-44. Ulker now had trouble scoring against Montepaschi's zone defense, while Rentzias and Thornton took over with back-to-back three-pointers that sent the visitors ahead by 45-50. Erdogan found a reverse layup, Vukcevic added a triple and Praskevicius dunked to erase that threat by giving Ulker a 52-50 edge. Kakiouzis rescued Montepaschi with a tip-in, but Zukauskas matched him with a hook shot, Erdogan hit free throws and Vukcevic nailed another triple to cap a 14-2 run that left Ulker in charge again, 59-54 after 30 minutes.
Ulker went for the kill early in the fourth quarter. Erdogan - who else? - scored in penetration while Vukcevic added a fast breaklayup to make it 63-54. Montepaschi waited for 2 minutes until Roberto Chiacig scored in the paint, but Erdogan answered with a jump hook and Zukauskas a tough shot in close as Ulker's lead reached double digits, 67-56. Vanterpool tried to change things with a layup and Davide Lamma added a triple to bring Montepaschi within 68-61, but Ulker was not done at all. Erdogan slashed to the basket, Saulius Stombergas nailed a three and Zukauskas added 3 points inside during an 8-0 run that made it 76-61 with less than 4 minutes to go. With Montepaschi having won their first game by 13 points, the battle was now over point difference, a potentially crucial factor if both teams tie at the end of the Top 16. Stombergas stepped up with a put-back and Erdogan added free throws as Ulker surged forward, 80-63, in the final 2 minutes. Rentzias gave Montepaschi some hope with a triple to which Kakiouzis added a basket-plus-free throw, bringing the guests within 83-69 with 39 seconds to go. A key offensive rebound by Zukauskas and free throws by Kerem Tunceri made sure of the 14-point final margin which means that Ulker depends only on itself now to reach the playoffs.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005