Panathinaikos increased its Euroleague-best record to 10-0 on Wednesday with an 83-74 win over visiting Union Olimpija Ljubljana at the OAKA Olympic Hall. Olimpija challenged Panathinaikos from start to finished and clawed its way to within 73-70 with 4:20 remaining, but didn't have enough to finish the job. Kostas Tsartsaris had 17 points in 22 minutes to lead the Greek champs, who were playing without injured power forward Mike Batiste. Ramunas Siskauskas and Demos Dikoudis added 13 each and Dejan Tomasevic had 12. Teemu Rannikko led Olimpija with 18 points and 5 assists, Manu Markoishvilli finished with 14, Marko Milic 12 and Domen Lorbek 10. The Slovenian champs slipped to 2-8 and saw their slim chances to advance to the Top 16 slip even further away. Panathinaikos looked to pull away in the second period when it built a 44-31 lead, but Olimpija cut the gap to 47-37 at halftime. Panathinaikos went up 15 in the third, but again Olimpija fought back with 11 unanswered points. However in the end, the hosts proved to be the stronger and more experienced side down the stretch and held on for the win.
Early three-pointers by Rannikko and Manu Markoishvilli helped the visitors storm out to a 6-8 lead. However, it wasn’t long before the hosts lived up to their billing. Tony Delk and Dimos Dikoudis combined for 9 points during a 12-0 run that gave Panathinaikos an 18-8 lead midway through the first period, prompting Olimpija coach Gasper Okorn to call timeout. Rannikko came back with his second triple of the night and then Lorbek copied him to cut the margin to 4. Milos Vujanic came off the bench to first connect on a three-pointer and then hit a pair of free throws to keep Panathinaikos in charge, despite 4 points by Milic. In the ensuing possessions, the guests took advantage of some lousy defensive plays by Panathinaikos and pulled within 25-22 by the end of the first quarter.
Early in the second quarter, Tsartsaris heated up with 5 points for a 30-22 lead. Markoishvilli retorted with a drive, but Siskauskas bettered him from downtown, igniting an 8-0 run that was capped by Tsartsaris. Olimpija started to struggle on offense, missing eight field goals in a row, while Panathinaikos’s backcourt players were pushing the ball and extended the advantage to double digits, 44-31, with 1:30 to go. Lorbek finally ended the dry spell for the guests with a triple from the corner to cut the deficit to 47-37 at halftime and keep his team’s chances for the much coveted upset win alive.
The second half commenced with Delk and Milic exchanging baskets, until defensive specialist Dimitrios Diamantidis picked Rannikko’s pocket and finished the break with authority for a 53-41 lead. Panathinaikos found a go-to-guy in Dikoudis, who tipped the ball in and then fed Delk for an uncontested lay-up and a 57-42 advantage midway through the period. Rannikko was not willing to go down without a fight and buried a triple and on the following possession Saulius Kuzminskas scored on the offensive glass. Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic took a timeout and sent captain Fragiskos Alvertis in. Olimpija tightened its defense, causing trouble for the hosts, who could not find any open shots and started to look a bit lethargic. Markoishvilli nailed one from beyond the arc, yet Alvertis gunned from downtown to allow Panathinaikos to hold 60-51 advantage. Markoishvilli stepped up once again, but Vujanic picked up the scoring slack for the hosts and upped the ante with a triple of his own and a 65-56 lead with one period left.
Tsartsaris opened the fourth quarter with a three-point play and soon Siskauskas scored an off-balance shot, as the gap soared to 70-56. Olimpija clawed its way back and when Ender Arslan drained a three-point rocket, he frustrated the noisy crowd and capped a jaw-dropping 0-11 run. Free throws from Ivica Jurkovic pulled Olimpija within 73-70 with 4:20 left and it looked as though the outcome of the match would go down the wire as neither team was able to pull away. Panathinaikos was held without a basket for more than five minutes, however Olimpija did not complete its comeback, due to its offensive blues down the stretch. When Tsartsaris galloped for a two-handed dunk after an assist from Sani Becirovic, the Greens went up 79-72 and Olimpija threw in the white towel, watching Panathinaikos march towards its 10th straight win.
Wednesday, January 3, 2007