Maccabi Tel Aviv threw its hat into the ring of contenders in Group F on Thursday by starting the Top 16 with a compelling 83-73 road win over Virtus in Bologna. The youthful perimeter duo of Tal Burstein and Beno Udrih rose to the occasion of the first Top 16 game to lead Maccabi to the victory. Burstein fired in 3 three-pointers among his floor-high 23 points and Udrih added 18 with just 2 turnovers in 34 minutes as Maccabi was able to pull away in the third quarter and shake off a Virtus rally in the fourth. Nicola Vujcic added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the winners. Virtus had five scorers in double figures, led by Dejan Koturovic with 18. Derrick Dial, David Brkic, Eric Murdock and Matjaz Smodis all hit 10 each, but it wasn't enough to keep their team from falling to 0-1. Maccabi, meanwhile, joined Benetton Treviso as co-leaders at 1-0.
Smodis lit up PalaMalaguti arena with a three to start the game, but it wasn't too long before Maccabi was taking the same route to solid early leads. Udrih and Burstein were the authors of their own shots from downtown, and on the strength of them, the visitors were ahead 8-13 after 5 minutes. Maccabi quickly pushed that lead into double digits before Virtus captain Alessandro Frosini was able to knock in a shot and knock down the deficit a bit. Still, Maccabi led 12-20 and seemed to be capable of more. Then, Derrick Dial hit 5 points in a row to give Virtus a 7-2 lift at the end the first quarter. Burstein was able to stop the slide and give Maccabi 3 points to defend, 19-22, after 10 minutes.
Virtus switched to 2-3 zone defense in the second quarter, and thanks to Koturovic overtook the lead at 31-30. Maccabi did not allow Virtus to run away and started playing good offense against the Virtus zone, taking back a four-point lead at 31-35 as Vujcic and Marcus Goree got to work on the boards. Eric Murdock gave Virtus good leadership on court, and the hosts tied once again at 38-38 with a couple of fastbreaks. But Udrih came off a pick to hit another jumper and Burstein scored from halfcourt at the buzzer, putting Maccabi back in charge by 5 points, 38-43, at intermission. Udrih was up to 12 already and Burstein 11 for Maccabi, while Murdock led Virtus with 10.
Maccabi's defense forced low scoring on Virtus in the third quarter. Only Smodis gave a little contribution, and minute by minute the hosts lost chemistry. Maccabi ran away thanks to a couple shots hit by Doron Sheffer and most of all thanks to the easy baskets on the break. Maccabi dug an eight-point lead, 54-46, and Virtus could not manage to react right away. Udrih was hitting from the perimeter and Burstein was taking advantage of his offensive mismatch against Ruslan Avleev, scoring 6 points in a row. Yoav Saffar scored a key triple that pushed the lead to 12 points, 63-51, then scored once more at the buzzer as Maccabi was in full command at 53-66 after 30 minutes.
Virtus tried to react in the last quarter, with German Scarone and Brkic sparking a 10-3 run to come back into the game. Koturovic was giving good inside contribution now, too, just like Smodis. But Maccabi got another great push by Burstein and a good contribution with important points and defense from Derrick Sharp. Virtus came back with only 4 points to make up, at 71-67, but its zone defense lost Saffar on the perimeter, allowing Maccabi's forward to hit another three for 74-67. Scarone and Dial did not surrender, but Smodis suffered a key turnover. With another jumper by Udrih, Maccabi manage to keep its solid lead and take the first Top 16 win home, 73-83.
Thursday, February 27, 2003