It took 40 minutes of struggle, but the reward was great as Climamio finally folded up visiting Adecco Estudiantes with an 84-78 victory on Wednesday to seal its place in the Top 16. The victory also gave Climamio back possession of first place a week after it lost that position to Efes Pilsen. Both teams are now 8-2 after Efes lost at Cibona, but Climamio would win any eventual tiebreak between them by virtue of a better points average in their two games. Estudiantes, meanwhile, saw its record drop to 3-7, a pair of victories behind the last sure Top 16 spot with only 4 games to play. Climamio was driven to victory by its captain, Gianluca Basile, who scored 11 of his 17 points in the first quarter and iced the victory with 6 straight free throws in the last minute. For the home team, Ruben Douglas added 16 points, Milos Vujanic 13, Matjaz Smodis 12 and Martin Rancik 10. For Adecco Estudiantes, Ruben Garces posted a huge 22-points, 12-rebounds double-double, while Hernan Jasen scored 15 points and Andres Miso 11.
Climamio played without center Dalibor Bagaric, so Smodis made his first start of the season, while Miso got the call at point guard for Estudiantes and helped the guests take a 3-8 lead that also featured a three-pointer by Carlos Jimenez and the first basket by Garces. Smodis blocked a shot that sent Vujanic for a fastbreak layup that came with a free throw, but Estudiantes didn't lose confidence as Jasen and Garces pushed the lead to 6-12. Climamio start its offense now with its defense, running the fastbreak twice during a 9-0 run in which Basile struck from beyond the arc for the hosts' first lead, 15-12. After getting hit by another triple - this one from Ruben Douglas - Estudiantes defended in a zone and got new life when Nacho Azofra nailed an open three and Garces scored inside again. Azofra scored again to narrow the difference to 24-26 before the first quarter ended.
A Douglas three-pointer off a screen opened the second quarter for Climamio and forced Estudiantes into its zone defense again. That worked for the guests, who made five straight defensive stops while Nikola Loncar became their lethal weapon on offense with 5 points that pushed the lead to 27-32. Off a Climamio timeout, Smodis and Rancik hit the zone from inside to make it 31-32. Teenage guard Sergio Rodriguez stepped oncourt to steal and start a fastbreak for Estudiantes, but then struggled to handle Vujanic on defense as Climamio regained a 35-34 lead. Estudiantes didn't panic, however, and used baskets by Garces down the stretch to reach halftime ahead 37-40.
Estudiantes kept playing well into the third quarter, which Iker Iturbe opened with a shot from downtown. When Garces raised his personal point total to 15, Estudiantes had its highest lead, 37-45. Smodis and Douglas scored buckets to keep Climamio in touch at 41-45. Douglas then took over the rally with 2 straight three-pointers to even the game at 47-47. Jasen resurfaced for offensive rebounds to push Estudiantes ahead 50-53. Vujanic had just scored from downtown and was not finished. His next triple was matched by Rancik, who came back before the buzzer to nail his team's fourth shot from downtown in a few minutes. The crowd went crazy as Climamio found its biggest lead, 62-57, after 30 minutes.
By now, Climamio was really inspired. Stefano Mancinelli nailed team's 12th shot from the arc and Marco Belinelli drove inside for a nine-point lead, 69-60, with 8 minutes to play. It wasn't over, however, as Estudiantes answered with a 4-10 run to come back within 73-70 on a three-pointer by Jimenez. Mancinelli's energy was now an arrow in Climamio's quiver, but Azofra froze the crowd when he sank a triple to make it 77-74 with 3 minutes to play. When Garces finished a fastbreak, the difference was down to a single point, 77-76. Jasen stole then but missed a clutch three-pointer, and Smodis added a free throw to the lead, now 78-76 with a minute on the clock. When Garces missed one of his foul shots, Basile pushed the lead to 80-77 from the line. The series repeated itself, with Garces missing one and Basile none to ensure Climamio the victory that put it in the Top 16.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005