There was no telling which was the first- and which the last-place team during much of the game, but Barcelona was able to prevail in a defense battle against visiting AEK by 68-54 in the only Group A game on Wednesday. Barcelona is now 7-2 and retains at least a share of first place in the group. It also shares the Euroleague's top record after Group C leader CSKA Moscow lost. AEK, competitive though it was, fell to 1-8. In a game that was so close for most of three quarters and defensive-minded through, it is saying something that a pair of 9-0 runs made the difference for Barcelona. The one that came first, in the third quarter, gave the hosts the lead for good, at 46-39. The second came early in the final quarter and provided the both the maximum lead, 58-43, and the proof that Barcelona was not going to be surprised at home this night. Dejan Bodiroga led Barca with 15 points and got consider help inside from Roberto Dueñas with 12. For AEK, the top scorers were Demos Dikoudis and Andrew Betts with 13 points each.
Dikoudis opened the scoring but his team was unable to keep shooting well in the early going. Barcelona gained the lead very soon due to the inside game of Dueñas, who would amass 8 points on 4-of-5 shooting plus 3 rebounds in the first quarter. The home side didn't really take off, either, and as Dikoudis kept working against Gregor Fucka for 8 points in the period, the guests kept in touch with the lead. Barca had its biggest advantage at 17-9 when Sarunas Jasikevicius scored the first three-pointer of the game, but AEK pulled out a 2-6 run to end the quarter facing only a 19-15 disadvantage on the scoreboard.
The second quarter came, and it was time for AEK's leading scorer, Mikalis Kakiouzis, to take and make a few. He did so always near the basket, because the long-distance shooters seemed to be taking a day off, all of them. With Dueñas on the bench, Betts dominated Patrick Femerling and AEK rose up to take the lead at 19-21 in the 13th minute. The visitors' run from the first quarter had now reached 2-12 run, and until the end of the second quarter, neither team could get more than 2 points in front. At halftime, Barcelona was leading 31-30 as Bodiroga and Dueñas had 8 points each, while for AEK, Kakiouzis was up to 10 and Dikoudis 8.
In the third quarter, both coaches sent out their starting lineups and a three-point play by Christos Tapoutos made it 31-33, opening a long series of draws and two-point leads for the Greek team. Bodiroga and Dueñas prevented Barcelona from going down, but when the Spanish center went back to the bench with four fouls after 24 minutes, that dynamic changed. A three-pointer and 2 free throws from Bodiroga opened that 9-0 run to 46-39, while Rodrigo De la Fuente equalled the biggest lead for Barcelona with a basket that made ti 49-41 in minute 29. At the end of the third quarter, the scoreboard read 49-43.
Decision time came at the beginning of the last period, which Barcelona opened with that second 9-0 run that make it 58-43. The Spanish fans could relax after seeing just their team's third three-pointer followed by an aleey-oop dunk by Anderson Varejao. The first three-pointer from AEK came later, made by Dikoudis to make it 58-46. The Greeks tried to make Barcelona feel the pressure again, but the never managed to reduce the margin below the 10-point mark, 60-50, until the last minute of the game, when 63-54 was not going to change the outcome.
Wednesday, December 18, 2002