There will be no Final Four classifier from Group E until the final week of the Top 16. Benetton Treviso made sure of that and made a big move to advance to the Final Four by knocking off visiting group leader Barcelona by a solid 89-75 on Wednesday. Both teams are now tied 3-2 atop the standings and await Thursday's result between Scavolini (2-2) and Skipper Bologna (1-3). Benetton keeps its fate in its own hands, however: Should it win its final game at Skipper, the worse it can do is tie Barcelona or Scavolini, and against both those teams it enjoys a wide point differential. On Wednesday, Benetton rolled by double-digits during much of the last three quarters to take revenge for the buzzer-beater loss it suffered the first time the teams played, in Barcelona. This time, Benetton shut down the author of Barcelona's success, Sarunas Jasikevicius, while getting a variety of offense from its own players. Jorge Garbajosa scored 15 for the winners, Massimo Bulleri 14 and Bostjan Nachbar 12. Ademola Okulaja finished with a floor-high 24 for Barcelona and was followed by Juan Carlos Navarro with 12.
A soldout Palaverde saw Benetton get off to a terrific start in its last home game, zooming ahead 8-0 in less than 2 minutes as Denis Marconato was unstoppable underneath, scoring 7 of thos points. At the other end, however, Ademola Okulaja bagged 5 straight points to get Barcelona back into the game at 12-7. The game kept up a furious pace on offense with, with Okulaja going to the offensive glass to keep his team close while Charlie Bell made his debut in the Euroleague netting a long-distance shot for Benetton. Juan Carlos Navarro, back from injury, made a perfect move coming off a screen to score his own three-pointer to put his team closer than ever at 21-20. The first period was ended, however, on a mid-range jumper by Sergey Chikalkin which gave Benetton the lead at 27-24.
Benetton started the second quarter almost as well as it had the first, with a 9-2 run that threatened to break the game open. Benetton had its first double digit lead at 36-26 on a three-pointer from the corner by Massimo Bulleri. Digbeu answered with his own from long-distance for Barca, but Bulleri came down the court and did it again. He 10 points by that time without a miss and Benetton was ahead 39-29. Taking advantage of Benetton turnovers, Barcelona was then able to cut the deficit back to 5 points, 39-34, but its own turnovers put the breaks on that momentum. In the final two minutes of the half, Marcelo Nicola scored on a fastbreak and a three-pointer to boost the home team back to a comfortable 46-36 halftime lead.
The third quarter was another high-paced shoot-'em-up, but Benetton stayed a couple steps ahead of Barcelona throughout. The continuing effectiveness of Okulaja inside where he reached 19 points by the 25th minure, kept Barca flirting with a single-digit deficit and the possiblity of coming back. But for every basket the visitors made, Benetton seemed to put in another three-pointer. Jorge Garbajosa made two and Bostjan Nachbar one to sustain the lead at 61-51. At that rate, it started to look like Barcelona was trying to keep the defecit from going up rather than bringing it down. Benetton kept getting to the basket easily until the third quarter a point better than it had begun, with Benetton ahead 69-58.
Although Benetton's trademark three-pointers were not falling for a few minutes, the situation stayed the same because Nachbar and Bulleri scored shorter shots in a 6-2 run to open the final quarter with its biggest lead yet, 75-62. On the first three-pointer by its Top 16 hero, Jasikevicius, Barca began a 5-10 run that made it 80-72 on the scoreboard, but when young Anderson Verajao had two free throws to cut it further with just under 4 minutes left, he missed both attempts. Jorge Garbajosa came down the other end and made a three-point play that sent the lead back toward double digits and left no doubt as to which team was winning, at least tonight.
Thursday, April 4, 2002