Winterthur FCB Barcelona ended a three game losing streak with a 75-82 road win over Aris TT Bank on Wednesday at Alexandrio Arena in Thessaloniki, Greece. Despite the defeat, Aris backed into the Top 16 thanks to Benetton Treviso's 62-64 win at Eldo Napoli. Aris finishes the regular season with a 6-8 record – the same as Napoli – but earns fifth place in Group C and with it the last automatic berth in the Top 16 thanks to a better head-to-head record between the sides. Barcelona led for most of the game, building a double-digit advantage in the second period and holding on for a 48-57 late in the third. However Jeremiah Massey rose to the occasion in the closing minutes and carried Aris back, eventually giving the hosts a 2-point lead. Jaka Lakovic sent the game to overtime at 72-72, but Aris then learned that it was through to the next stage and let up, as Juan Carlos Navarro and Gianluca Basile remained strong in the last 5 minutes to guarantee the win. Navarro scored 20 to lead Barca. Basile netted three triples on his way to 17, while Lakovic drew 10 fouls on his way to 13 and Jordi Trias was perfect from the field for 12. Mihalis Kakiouzis grabbed 10 rebounds for Barcelona. Massey led Aris with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Savas Iliadis added 17 and Mike Wilkinson 10.
Backed by a sellout crowd of wild and boisterous fans, Aris came out hell-bent on dictating the tempo and showing who’s in charge. However, Fran Vazquez thought otherwise and displayed an array of long jumpers and hook shots for a 4-7 lead. In the next possession, veteran Giorgos Sigalas misfired, unlike Lakovic, who knocked down a triple to frustrate the yellow hordes in the stands and give Barca a 4-10 advantage after 3 minutes of play. After a timeout, Massey muscled his way inside and then forced Vazquez to the bench after committing his second personal foul. Moments later, Dimitris Tsaldaris drilled a triple to make it a one-point game. Still, Aris could not flash some of its trademark defense against Barcelona and soon the up-tempo guests rattled off 6 straight points. Iliadis came off the bench to beat the buzzer from beyond the arc, only to be copied by Euroleague-leading scorer Navarro. The three-point show was not over though, as Alex Scales stepped up and pulled Aris within 15-19. Still, Barcelona kept making the extra pass and held a 19-24 edge after 10 minutes thanks to a three-point play by Basile.
Wilkinson opened the second quarter scoring in the paint, but experienced Denis Marconato retaliated with back-to-back baskets that kept Barca firmly ahead, 23-28. Basile picked up the scoring slack with 5 points that carried the momentum, despite a flagrant foul by Roger Grimau. The fans were now pouring their hearts out in order to spark a yellow comeback, yet the hosts were struggling to find rhythm offensively and went scoreless through a 3-minute stretch. In the meanwhile, Basile combined with Roko-Leni Ukic to forge a double-digit lead, 28-38. Eventually, Aris got going when Terrel Castle took Kakiouzis off the dribble. Then Iliadis landed a wild off-balance triple from the corner to slice the margin to 34-40, something that forced Dusko Ivanovic to call for a timeout. It was about time for Basile to come up big once again and so he did, as the smooth shooter sank his second from downtown to give Barcelona a 34-43 lead at the intermission.
Early on in the second half, Aris chose to feed Massey who failed to get the scoreboard rolling. With Basile on the bench, Navarro shook off an unusually quiet first half and scored 4 points. It was evident that the hosts could not bounce back, due to their struggles offensively, so coach Andrea Mazzon asked Mahmud Abdul-Rauf to shoulder some responsibility. Massey won a hard-fought battle in the paint and converted a three-point play and later he stole the ball and hit a free throw to cap an impressive 8-0 run. With the score at 42-47, Lakovic got an open look and unleashed a triple to keep Barcelona in the driver’s seat. Wilkinson and Scales did not cave in and then Abdul-Rauf joined them, as he buried a shot from beyond the arc to keep the yellows close on Barca’s heels. Still the guests managed to get the monkey off their back thanks to Basile, who loaded his pistol and gunned one in from downtown for a 48-57 advantage. Massey was not willing to go down without a fight though and brought the crowd to its feet with a thunderous dunk over Grimau. Marconato answered back, before the energetic Massey grabbed the offensive rebound and hit a pair of free throws, as the third quarter ended 54-59 in favor of the guests.
The fourth quarter got underway with Navarro scoring on a drive. Tsaldaris bettered him with a triple and then Iliadis hit a jumper to cut the lead at 59-61. Navarro added 2 points, but Aris came roaring back behind Sigalas, who scored his first basket of the game and then he put his defensive stamp, as he picked Trias’s pocket. Powerhouse Massey was now carrying the hosts on his shoulders and scored a rare triple to make it 64-65. First Lakovic and then backcourt mate Navarro penetrated on defense to trigger a 0-4 run, however Iliadis retorted on a layup and hit the subsequent free throw to keep the hosts alive. After a point by Basile, both teams were locked for a while in a battle at 67-70, until Iliadis scored on a gutsy drive with 1:45 left. Kakiouzis missed a layup and then Lakovic bricked a triple, leaving Aris the chance to take the lead. Massey bore the responsibility and knocked down the triple that turned the game topsy-turvy and established a 72-70 margin for the yellows with 34 seconds to go. Nothing was over yet though. Lakovic took the ball to the basket to draw a foul from Giorgos Kalaitzis and sent the game to overtime, as Barca did not allow Aris to attempt a game-winning shot before the buzzer.
Before the extra period began, word reached the arena that Napoli lost to Benetton and that Aris had already qualified to the next round. The home team perhaps celebrated a bit too early as Basile set Navarro up for a basket-plus-foul to start the overtime. Massey scored inside, but Trias corrected a Lakovic miss and Navarro stripped the ball from Abdul-Rauf for a layup to make it 74-79. Castle made only one from the line, but it mattered little, as Barcelona held on for the victory on a night were both teams were winners.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007