Another chapter in the Cinderella story of Union Olimpija this season was written on Wednesday in Villeurbanne, France as Roberts Stelmahers made a free throw with 7 seconds left to complete a huge comeback with a 77-78 road with over Adecco Asvel. Olimpija trailed by 15 early in the fourth quarter, but reacted with its three-point shooters and recovered center Josko Poljak leading the charge. A pair of free throws by Stelmahers gave Olimpija its first lead of the game with 70 seconds left, but he then had to win it at the like after Davor Marcelic had tied for Asvel. The final possession ended without a shot for the hosts. The result meant that Olimpija is now 2-1 and can do no worse than a tie for second place in Group G at the end of the week. Asvel, however, fell to 0-3 and will likely find that this game ended its chance of contending for the Final Four. Marino Badaric led the winners with 17 points, including 4-for-9 three-point shooting. Vlatko Ilievski added 17 points, Stelmahers and Jasmin Hukic 11 each. Asvel's big gun was Simon Petrov, who drilled 22 points in 23 minutes. Asvel center Robert Gulyas returned from injury and scored his team's first 5 points, but ran into foul trouble and didn't get any more in 9 minutes on the floor.
The start of the game gave Asvel fans good reason to wonder how good their team might have done if Robert Gulyas had played the first two Top 16 contests. The Asvel center's return from injury started with a dunk and a three-pointer that helped put the home team ahead 7-0. In a matter of seconds, however, Olimpija tightened its defense, forcing Asvel into long plays and difficult shots. At the other end, Olimpija guard Roberts Stelmahers launched two shots from the arc, autographing a personal 0-6 run for the visitors. Stevin Smith moved the ball fast onn offense as Asvel's playmaking now improved. Two free throws by Simon Petrov capped a 1-6 run for a 13-7 Asvel advantage. Olimpija survived on triples, as Marino Bazdaric hit another to make it 13-12. It was clear that defenses would rule over offense, but somehow Stelmahers managed to sneak into Asvel's lane with a coast-to-coast drive. Petrov put an end to the first quarter with a three-point play on a drive from the perimeter for a 20-14 Asvel lead after 10 minutes.
The second quarter started with another Olimpija three, this one by Pero Dujmovic, but from that point forward, Asvel made the guests disappear. Working the ball around for the best shooting options, and totally neutralizing Olimpija with ough defense, the French chanmps rolled out a 15-0 run sustained by the scoring of Davor Marcelic and Sacha Giffa. Olimpija found its main weapon had ran out of ammunition, as no triples would go in anymore. Finally, Dujmovic penetrated to score again for the guests, but by that time Asvel's lead had swelled to 35-21. The fans in Villeurbanne were charged up to see their team controlling the game by 17 points, 41-24. But then the momentum changed completely. Bazdaric triggered the turnaround by nailing 2 straight three-pointers that made it 41-30. Asvel was too relaxed now on offense, and gave up a couple turnovers. With Vlatko Ilievski making one of his characteristic penetrations and yet another three by Jasmin Hukic, Olimpija had completed a 0-12 run to within 41-36. Marcelic temporarily stopped the Sloveninan avalanche with a triple from the side that beat the halftime buzzer and let Asvel reach the lockers with 8 points to defend, 44-36.
The second half started well again for Asvel, which climbed again to a double-digit lead thanks to some easy baskets. A 10-4 run to a 54-40 lead was sealed by another triple from Petrov, who was becoming the key figure in the offense. At that point, Ilievski woke up suddenly with 6 straight points for Olimpija, including a smooth layup to break Asvel's zone defense and drop the deficit to 8 points, 54-46. Andre Owens hit a jumper to break Olimpija's momentum and Asvel's defense started to improve again. Marcelic connected with David Frigout for an easy basket in Olimpija's lane, and Stevin Smith added a crucial three-point play that would earn the hosts another 14-point lead, 65-51. There was time left, however, for Ilievski to reply with Olimpija's best weapon of the night, a triple, to make it 65-55 after 30 minutes.
Nobody expected what would happen in the last quarter, as until then, Asvel had managed the lead more or less without difficulty. The last period even started with Petrov hitting from downtown again, and Asvel holding a comfortable 70-55 edge. But here came the indomitable Olimpija with a 0-10 run that turned the game upside down. Ilievski hit for three, and Josko Poljak started to make noise in the paint, and the rest of the team added some free throws, while Asvel was completely blocked in offense. Hukic sealed the run for 70-65 with a three. The battle from the 6.25 line continued as Petrov nailed another one, but Poljak was there in the paint to maintain Olimpija in the game at 75-70. With less than 3 minutes to go, a steal by Poljak allowed Bazdaric to receive a foul and hit twice from the line for 75-73. Then Dujmovic banked a jumper off the board to tie it all up, 75-75. Asvel was reeling now, and Stelmahers stepped up to hit 2 more free throws that gave Olimpija its first lead of the game, 75-77, with 1 minute, 10 seconds to go. Both teams started to foul, with Marcelic hitting 2 free throws for the hosts to tie at 77-77. With a little more than a possession to go, Bazdaric and Stelmahers passed the ball to each other, as it was clear that one of them would go for the clutch shot. It was Stelmahers who, with a penetration, managed to draw a foul from Harold Mrazek. He only managed to score 1 of the 2 foul shots, giving Olimpija a 77-78 lead and leaving Asvel 7 seconds to play the last ball. But a fatal pass from Petrov to Owens went out of bounds just as time as time expired and Olimpija celebrated yet another surprising victory.
Wednesday, March 19, 2003