Partizan Igokea got off to a strong start in the 2007-08 Euroleague regular season by edging Axa FC Barcelona 81-78 in both teams' opening game at Pionir Arena in the Serbian capital in Group C on Wednesday night. Partizan won its opening Euroleague game for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Meanwhile, Barcelona had never lost its Euroleague opening game since the competition started in 2000. A star was born, too, as Nikola Pekovic paced the winners with 29 points on 13-of-14 two-point shots and 8 rebounds. Milenko Tepic added 14 points, Milt Palacio had 13 while Cedomir Vitkovac got 12 for Partizan. Jaka Lakovic had 21 points, Mario Kasun added 13, Fran Vazquez 10, while Pepe Sanchez dished 9 assists for Barcelona. Visiting center Denis Marconato set the Euroleague alltime record for games played, making his 145th appearance. Barca led 15-20 after 10 minutes. An outstanding Pekovic led Partizan from that moment, peaking at 72-63 with less than four minutes to go. Ersan Ilyasova, Lakovic and Albert Moncasi helped Barcelona to tie the game, 77-77. Palacio made free throws for Partizan with 24 seconds to go, Lakovic hit just 1 of 2 with 16.5 remaining and Partizan managed to keep the clock running. Vitkovac made more foul shots with 3.2 seconds to go and a desperation midcourt shot by Sanchez hit the back of the rim, allowing the Belgrade fans to celebrate a promising start to the season.
Michel Morandais of Barcelona opened fire and Kasun added a three-point play as the visitors took an early 0-6 lead. Tepic scored Partizan's first basket, but Kasun again shined in the paint and Lakovic drilled a three to put Barca up 4-13. Pekovic came off the Partizan bench and quickly scored 4 points. Tepic added points on a fast break, which signaled Barcelona coach Ivanovic to take a timeout. But even after, Pekovic hit twice from the line and the score was 14-15. Barca ended the first period with a 1-5 run and a 15-20 lead.
Pekovic opened the second period with 4 more points and Novica Velickovic tied the score, but Lakovic kept Barcelona ahead with 2 triples. Vitkovac tied it again as Partizan switched to zone with giant Slavko Vranes in the paint. Vitkovac made his first triple for the hosts and Partizan led 28-29. Jordi Trias restored Barca's lead from the line and Lakovic remained unstoppable. He was joined by Sanchez, who scored from downtown to make it 36-38 with two minutes left till the break. Tepic tied and then added a bomb. Vasquez committed a turnover and fouled Pekovic, who scored from the line as Partizan won the period 27-21 for a 42-41 lead at the half.
The teams traded baskets at the beginning of the second half. Kasun scored twice, but Vitkovac did the same on the other side of the court. When Pekovic made a dunk, Partizan led 52-47 and it was obvious that Barca was having problems defending the Partizan big men. With Acker far from his best and Trias struggling, Pekovic had no problem in scoring. After an 8-0 run Partizan led 56-47. Trias broke the drought, but Tepic scored a three for first the hosts' first double-digits lead. Partizan was great on defense in those minutes as Barca looked a little bit confused shooting over the 2.29-meter Vranes. Partizan finished the third period up 62-54.
Palacio started to hit triples for Partizan at the beginning of the final period. Zone defense proved to be a real enigma for the Barca players and after 2 more Pekovic points, the gap grew to 12. Ilyasova answered with three-point play, giving Barca some hope. But Sanchez missed a triple and a chance to put his team back into the game. Palacio did the same on the other side giving guests new opportunity. Vasquez did not miss. Ilyasova added a bomb and the score was 72-66 with three minutes to go. The teams traded turnovers and Palacio scored only one from the line. Vasquez's dunk forced a foul from Tripkovic. But he missed and Partizan missed twice from behind the arc. Lakovic scored a triple and Sanchez stole the ball. Albert Moncasi's slam tied the score 73-73. Pekovic and Vasquez traded baskets, but Pekovic added 2 more points in the last minute. Vasquez missed a long-range jumper but Moncasi tied it from the line. Palacio had one more chance from the line. He was cool handed and Partizan led 79-77 with 25 seconds to go. Petar Bozic fouled Lakovic, who scored only one, and Partizan took the ball. Vitkovac was fouled with 3 seconds left. He scored two, firing the audience and celebrating Partizan's first Euroleague win of the season.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007