Even though it played at home, Union Olimpija of Ljubljana took what is arguably the biggest upset of the week by defeating mighty Maccabi Tel Aviv 81-76 at Ljubljana on Thursday in Group A. The hosts had the game controlled in the third quarter with an 18-point lead, but Maccabi reacted then to erase the deficit and eventually jump ahead, 70-73 near the end, on a three-pointer by Derrick Sharp. But the strong defense of Olimpija together with the help of the fans that packed the Tivoli Arena allowed Vladimir Boisa to hit a providential triple with 1 minute to go that would give the game to the hosts. With the victory, Union Olimpija climbs in Group B to 4-1, tied for first place with Tau Ceramica, while Maccabi drops to 2-3, tied for fifth place with Montepaschi. Goran Jurak led the winners with 15 points, Jasmin Hukic and Vlado Ilievski added 13 apiece, Marino Bazdaric contributed 12 and Vladimir Boisa bagged 11. For the Maccabi, Quincy Lewis was the best man with 29 points, Derrick Sharp added 14 and Marcus Goree hit 11.
After the big welcome to Beno Udrih, who returned to the arena where he had played for the last two years, emotions were forgotten and the best offensive team of the league and the best defending team in Group B started the struggle for the win. The first minutes were for the Israelis who were ahead by 11-17 after a 0-11 run including two threes by Lewis. Coach Tomo Mahoric called a timeout which provoked the reaction that turned the game upside down. The same five that had started the game was back with an impressive 20-1 tear which had left Maccabi scoreless from minute 7 to 13 except for a free throw by Udrih. Olimpija had the game under control. With a good performance by Jurak with 13 points and 3 boards in 17 minutes, the first quarter ended 24-18.
The next 10 minutes looked even better for the hosts as captain Jasmin Hukic hit twice for three right as he stepped on court, to improve the score to 30-18. With a good accuracy from the free throw line by Roberts Stelmahers, Union Olimpija increased its lead to 13 points, 31-18, in minute 13. Goree was the first to score for Maccabi after 6 minutes, but next in line was Sharp who, with two threes and two free throws in a row, found again the scoring mood for his team. In a little more than 2 minutes, Maccabi was back with a 0-11 tear to cut the deficit down to 31-28. The second time that Mahoric called a timeout was the second reaction of the hosts. His instructions to attck the different defenses played by Maccabi were enough to let Union Olimpija pull away again. With the third three by Hukic, Olimpija was ahead by 11 at the break.
The first two baskets of the second half arrived from Marino Bazdaric and Boisa, which meant the 46-31. Coach David Blatt had even more problems when first Sharp and later Nikola Vujcic were called their fourth fouls, and had to sit on the bench. In minute 29, Olimpija still had a 12-point lead, 61-49, but it decreased to 5 only 2 minutes later, 63-58, thanks to a series of baskets by Lewis. Maccabi only needed two offensive plays to cut the deficit down to 1 point, 64-63, at the same time that the fans in Ljubljana saw that the worst was yet to come. 5 minutes later, a three by Lewis tied the score at 70-70, and another three-pointer by Sharp made it 70-73. Ilievski answered also from the arc, as there were only 2 minutes left. Hukic scored twice from the free throw line for 75-73, and in the next play, Boisa hit the three that put Olimpija ahead at 78-73 with only one minute to go. Maccabi looked for the three-pointer but Lewis missed and Josko Poljak grabbed the decisive board that took him to the charity line, where he only managed to score one of the two attempts. Vujcic played fast to hit for three again, 79-76. Sharp fouled quickly, and Stelmahers hit the two free throws that would leave Union Olimpija at 81-76 and the Tivoli arena celebrating the win as if they could not believe what had just happened.
Thursday, November 7, 2002