With two games still remaining in the regular season, first place in Group A is practically spoken for after Benetton broke a tie by bouncing former co-leader Barcelona out of Treviso 94-82. Benetton controlled the game through 30 minutes and didn't let Barcelona back in it when the visitors awoke for the last 10. As such, Benetton improves to 10-2 and Barcelona falls to second place at 9-3. The winners put 5 scorers in double figures, led by Marcelo Nicola with 17 points. Jorge Garbajosa, Denis Marconato and Trajan Langodn netted 15 apiece while Tyus Edney tallied 11. For Barcelona, Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 20, Anderson Varejao 17, Juan Carlos Navarro 16 and Rodrigo De La Fuente added 11 others. Apart from Varejao, however, the Barcelona big men were neutralized, as Benetton won the rebound battle 38-30. At the same time, Barcelona team leader Dejan Bodiroga left the game on his fifth foul, a technical, in the third quarter.
Treviso's Palaverde was sold out for the first time since the 2002 Italian League finals to welcome Barcelona. In one of the main matchups, Barcelona game-breaker Dejan Bodiroga's duel with Benetton veteran defensive ace Riccardo Pittis got started in favor of the hosts. Bodiroga was called for an offensive foul and Pittis slammed home an offensive rebound as Benetton jumped to a 6-2 lead. Denis Marconato scored a mid-range jumper for a 10-5 lead halfway through the quarter. He and his fellow Benetton big men shot from outside and avoided Barcelona's inside wall of Roberto Dueñas and Gregor Fucka as the home team's lead widened to 15-6 after 6 minutes. Marconato and Garbajosa had 11 of those points. Marconato kept scoring, a three-point play now on a nice assist from Massimo Bulleri, and the Benetton edge kept growing, to 21-6. Bodiroga scored his first basket after 7 minutes, with Pittis now resting, and immediately added another bucket-plus-free throw for a 21-11 score. But Barca could not force the deficit down to single digits yet as the first period ended 26-14.
Navarro took care of business for Barca early in the second period with 5 straight points that made it 30-21. Now, however, the duo of Nicola and Garbajosa was proving unstoppable for the Spanish big men. The Benetton lead jumped to 35-21. Barcelona tried to play with Bodiroga at power forward defending Nicola and Fucka at center on Garbajosa, but nothing changed. Despite a fullcourt defense by the visitors, Benetton continued its run, to 44-28 as only Navarro kept scoring for Barcelona. Forward Anderson Varejao now helped the visitors with 2 inside baskets for 48-37 late in the half. But then Benetton's well-organized defense of double teams on Bodiroga forced a turnover and Tyus Edney with the 2 free throws set the scoreboard at 50-37 after 20 minutes. Marconato with 11 points Navarro with 10 were the only scorers in double figures so far.
Barca needed a boost and Jasikevicius supplied it in the form of consecutive three-pointers early in the third quarter, bringing the deficit under 10 points again, 52-43. Less than 4 minutes into the second half, Bodiroga protested and was fouled out with a tecnichal foul and his team down by 13, 58-45. Langdon and Edney on the Italian side and Varejao for Barcelona were the only men scoring in the middle of the quarter, but Benetton seemed to manage the lead well, keeping it at 62-51 after 27 minutes. Garbajosa scored again to push the lead up to 67-51, then Varejao stole a ball and slammed it for 67-55. But Fucka wasn't in the game and gave another easy basket to Garbajosa as Benetton reached the end of 30 minutes up 15 points, 72-57.
Something changed in the guests beginning the final period. As a matter of pride almost, Barcelona began with a 0-7 run based on 2 triples by Rodrigo De La Fuente. The lead had been cut to 72-65, but Benetton answered with a 7-0 run on a three by Dante Calabria to reject the guests. The game was hot, with two of Europe's best teams and Jasikevicius from the arc made it 79-70. But here came Pittis to answer with his own long-distance shot right on the shot-clock buzzer with 2 minutes to go. It was decisive, jacking up the lead to 88-74 and giving the fans in Treviso plenty to celebrate as they look ahead to the Top 16.
Thursday, January 30, 2003