In an Italian derby that is never meaningless, Final Four qualifier Benetton finished as the only undefeated team in the Top 16 by defeating Virtus Bologna 98-76 at home in Treviso on Thursday. Benetton's 6-0 record in Group F, considered by many the most difficult a the Top 16 Draw two months ago, also tied it with CSKA Moscow for the best overall record in the Euroleague this season, 17-3. What's more, Benetton's younger generation were the protagonists this time as Kresimir Loncar led the winners with 21 points. Teenager Manuhar Markoishvili came next with 15 points. Newly signed Nick Eppehimer added 13, while Dennis Marconato, Massimo Bulleri and Jorge Garbajosa pitched in 11 each. Tyus Edney did not play for Benetton. For Virtus, Derrick Dial led the way with 26 points. Ruslan Avleev added 14, Marco Belinelli 13 and Mladen Sekularac 10.
Virtus Bologna arrived to Treviso without big men Matjaz Smodis and David Brkic, while starting center Dejan Koturovic was on the bench and unable to play. After only 5 minutes, Benetton had already seen 8 players on the court and some different defenses tried. A minute later, it also had a 20-12 lead despite a Virtus zone. When German Scarone left the game and the floor for Virtus, Belinelli went on the floor with another teenager, Markoishvili, but the latter was on the mark more as Benetton's lead climbed to 30-17 after 10 minute.
The second quarter saw a new face, Eppehimer, working against Dial of Virtus, who was getting help from Sekularac, but the Benetton lead nonetheless stayed high at 38-22 after 13 minutes after a steal by Pittis. The veteran forward was enjoying some minutes as a real playmaker in the absence of Edney, who was in the stands. By halftime, Benetton had more than doubled its guests, 51-22, and already had 9 players who scored, led by Marconato with 9 points. Dial, with 14 points, was the only real scorer for Virtus.
Loncar was the protagonist at the begininng of the second half. The young creatian center capitalized on 2 nice assists and then found the basket from downtown for a 59-38 lead after 23 minutes. Virtus play too individualistic a game to give any trouble to the Benetton defense, which concentrated well despite the situation. Halfway through the quarter, Benetton coach sent out his tenth man, 2.10-meter Danish forward Thomas Soltau, another dose of experience for the future. Belinelli understands the occasion and accepted his challenge against Markoishvili and Bulleri, giving Virtus fans something to hope for down the road. Dial kept scoring, but it was like singing in the desert. He had 18 points after 30 minutes, when the Benetton lead stood at 78-58. Avleev joined him the final quarter, but otherwise it was only showtime for Benetton, which was already looking forward to its next Euroleague game, at the Final Four in Barcelona, in the semifinals against another Italian qualifier, Montepaschi Siena.
Thursday, April 17, 2003