Montepaschi Siena has took the upper hand in killer Group F going into the last week of the Top 16 by putting on an inspired performance at home in Siena to blast Benetton Treviso 80-64 on Thursday.The triumph pulls Montepaschi even with Benetton at 3-2 atop Group F. If Montepaschi wins in Athens next weekend, it will return to the Final Four. Benetton must beat Barcelona at home and pray that Siena loses. If both Benetton and Barca lose, it will provoke a four-way tie in which overall point difference in the Top 16 is decisive. At present, Montepaschi has a point difference +28, Barcelona +9, Benetton 0 and Panathinaikos -37. Bootsy Thornton was Montepaschi's high man on Thursday, scoring 19 points, and he pulled down 5 rebounds to go with 5 steals. Mikailis Kakiouzis scored 13 with 8 rebounds, and David Vanterpool and Roberto Chiacig scored 12 points apiece. Maurice Evans stood out for Benetton offensively with 25 points on 5 of 7 three-point shooting, while Massimo Bulleri had 12 points and Tyus Edney finished with 10. Montepaschi carried a 41-31 rebounding edge and allowed Benetton to shoot just 33% from two-point range.
Roberto Chiacig powered Montepaschi with two baskets in the paint as the hosts built a 8-2 run. Evans and Edney picked up the pace for Benetton, scoring graceful baskets as the guests climbed to 10-7 after 5 minutes. After Vrbica Stefanov was sent to the bench with foul trouble, David Vanterpool stepped in with 4 consecutive points to put Montepaschi ahead by 7. Evans and Giacomo Galanda exchanged triples to make it 17-10, but Benetton cut into the lead as Massimo Bulleri dropped in 4 straight points. Montepaschi scored the final 4 points of the quarter and Thornton's two free throws with 5 seconds made it 21-14.
Montepaschi continued its hot shooting and grabbed an 8-point lead with a triple of Kakiouzis to open the second quarter. Montepaschi coach Carlo Recalcati called for a zone defense, which slowed Benetton down and the hosts' lead grew to 30-19 after baskets by Thornton and Vanterpool. The defending Italian champs suddenly had a 15 point deficit after a dunk by Andersen and a triple from Mindaugas Zukauskas. Marconato made it 39-26 on a dunk, but Montepaschi's pressure defense silenced Benetton again and the hosts took a 43-26 lead on another Zukauskas three-pointer. Bulleri's free throws before the buzzer kept the difference to 15 points, 43-28, at halftime. Roberto Chiacig
While Benetton continued to dig a hole for itself with 3 consecutive turnovers to start the third quarter, Montepaschi boosted its lead with a 6-0 run powered by Thornton and Chiacig. Both sides exchanged baskets until Chiacig's baseline drive put Montepaschi ahead 51-34. Benetton pulled to 51-40 after Evans and Edney reeled off 6 straight points. Montepaschi switched back to zone defense, and Benetton's toubles started again, as Montepaschi took a 56-40 edge after a Thornton triple. Benetton fought back couragously behind Evans and pulled to within 57-47 near the end of the quarter, but Vanterpool stepped up and nailed a final jump shot that made it 59-47 after 30 minutes.
Montepaschi didn't let up, as Thornton and Dusan Vukcevic led the hosts on a 7-0 run that made it 64-47 early in the final quarter. Benetton couldn't find an answer for Montepaschi's swarming defense. Bulleri pulled the guests to within 15 points, but free throws by Vanterpool and a triple from Kakiouzis made it 71-51. Evans continued to fight for Benetton, nailing a jumper and landing a powerful dunk, but the Benetton couldn't find a way back into the game. Evans and Thornton engaged in a back-and-forth battle, but the guests finished on the losing side as Montepaschi held a commanding 20-point lead, 78-58 with 2 minutes remaining. Benetton pulled to within 78-61, but they ran out of time as Montepaschi nailed down a 80-64 win when the buzzer sounded.
Thursday, April 1, 2004