Benetton has claimed a spot atop Group F after improving its record to 2-1 with a hard-fought 95-92 victory over Italian rival Montepaschi Siena at home in Treviso on Thursday. Benetton joins its rival from last season's title game, FC Barcelona, as co-leader of the group. Montepaschi slipped to 1-2 and a third-place tie with Panathinaikos. Jorge Garbajosa pulled down the decisive rebound and led the Benetton scorers with 21 points, while Maurice Evans contributed 19 points. Denis Marconato registered a double-double with 18 points and 16 boards, Tyus Edney added 16 points and Marcelo Nicola 10 for the winners. Michalis Kakiouzis led Montepaschi with 19 points and doubled up with 11 rebounds. Bootsy Thornton posted 15 points, Dusan Vukcevic and David Vanterpool 12 each, and Vrbica Stefanov and Giacomo Galanda 11 apiece for Montepaschi.
Riccardo Pittis and Marconato hooked up for a lay-up and then a dunk in the opening minutes, as Benetton grabbed a quick 6-2 lead. Marconato slammed home his second dunk of the game and then scored again over Roberto Chiacig as Benetton built a 10-2 edge. Montepaschi fought back behind Stefanov and Vukcevic, who netted a triple that cut Benetton's lead to 12-9. Montepaschi kept pace with a basket by Thornton, but Guilherme Giovannoni came off the bench to join Garbajosa in carrying Benetton on a 7-0 run that made it 23-15. Thornton drained a triple before the buzzer, pulling Montepaschi within 23-18 at the end of the first quarter.
Benetton threatened to run away early in the second quarter as it opened a 30-22 edge, but Thornton and Vanterpool answered for Montepaschi. The duo scored consecutive baskets on hard drives to the rim and Montepaschi was within 30-26 in the 13th minute. Vanterpool then stripped the ball from Andrea Bargnani and converted an open layup, while moments later Thornton pulled Montepaschi to within 34-33 by nailing 3 of 4 free throws. Montepaschi aligned its 1-2-2 full court zone press for the first time, but Benetton was prepared. Nicola scored on a three-point play immediately and Evans extended the lead to 49-40 with a triple. Galanda pulled Montepaschi to within 51-45 after scoring 5 straight points and the first half ended with a failed three-pointer by Nicola.
Galanda and Edney exchanged three-pointers early in the third quarter, but it was Kakiouzis who launched Montepaschi on a 10-0 run to its first advantage of the night, 57-58 after 23 minutes. Kakiouzis stayed hot, knocking down another triple on a pick-and-pop to to extend the cushion to 59-61. Garbajosa ignited Benetton and its fans with a baseline layup-plus-free throw to give Benetton the lead again, 62-61. The teams changed defenses, from man-to-zone to zone and back again, late in the third quarter. The lead changed hands five times and the score was tied twice. Evans chipped in a pair of foul shots and a three-pointer to give Benetton breathing room at 73-69 before Vanterpool scord 1 of 2 free throws to put 73-70 on the scoreboard after 30 minutes.
Edney opened the final quarter extending the margin to 75-70, but Montepaschi stormed back and Vanterpool tied the score at 76-76. Four straight points by Marconato boosted Benetton back to 80-76 with 5 minutes left in the game. The two teams went back and forth and after Thornton nailed a jumper to make the score 85-83. Montepaschi extended its defense to fullcourt and Benetton's attack slowed down. Andersen knotted the game at 85-85 on a midrange jump shot, but Evans answered from the arc immediately with a triple. With 30 seconds left Vanterpool cut the deficit to 91-90, but Edney drew a foul on Benetton's next possession and made 1 of 2 free throws. Garbajosa pulled down the rebound on Edney's miss and got the ball back out to the guard, who was fouled again. This time Edney made both free throws and Benetton was ahead by an insurmountable 94-90. Andersen scored quickly for Montepaschi, but Evans nailed 1 of 2 free throws to finalize score at 95-92.
Thursday, March 18, 2004