Olympiakos played on the road in Ljubljana, Slovenia on Thursday but managed easily to retain its perfect record in Group G of the Top 16 by beating host Union Olimpija 66-75. As such, the Reds stand alone atop the group at 3-0, a victory ahead of Panthainiakos (2-1), which defeated AEK (1-2) back in Athens. Olimpija practically says goodbye to the Final Four after collecting its third loss in three games for all but mathematical elimination. Alphonso Ford was the main weapon for Olympiakos one more time, and his 27 points did plenty of damage to a defense that was unable to stop him. The guests were ahead from the opening minute but they only managed to pull away in the second period by 25-35, maintaining that difference until the end of the game. Ford was the only scorer in double figures for the winners, which fails to indicate how lethal the visitors' game in the paint was for Olimpija. James Forrest, Patrick Femmerling and Iñaki De Miguel combined for 22 inside points for the Reds. Jiri Welsch led Union Olimpija with 14 points, while Tunji Awojobi added 12 and Haris Mujezinovic 11.
The game began with some quick baskets and Ford already was leading his team on the offensive end, putting Olympiakos ahead 4-6 on a coast-to-coast basket. After that, Olympiakos was always ahead, but Olimpija had in Welsch and Awojobi the main pillars to stay in the game. The guests clearly showed more organization on the offensive end, however. The teams arrived at the end of the first quarter with a three-pointer by Ford putting his team ahead by five, the biggest lead up to that moment, 16-21.
The second quarter almost began in the same manner that the first had ended, as Ford hit another three. He was up to 15 points in only 11 minutes. Against that situation, there was little that Jure Zdovc could do, even if he had been put on court by coach Zmago Sagadin to stop the Red scorer. Union Olimpija's first timeout was called. But it had no effect as Ford followed with his scoring festival against the impotent host defense, and the guests hit an 0-8 run to jump ahead 16-26. Those 10 points looked almost impossible for Olimpija to overcome tonight, as they lost concentration when Ford took control and ruled. Welsch was the only man on the home side that seemed able to score to try to catch up to Olympiakos, but one man was not enough. At halftime, the 10-point gap was still there, 32-42.
The third quarter began with a Theodoros Papaloukas three-pointer reestablishing the double-digit lead at 34-45, but from there, Olimpija forged a 6-0 run that lit a bit of hope for the players and the fans of Ljubljana. The mirage vanished, however, when Forrest put his team back on track with another 0-6 run for a 40-51 lead. From that point, Olympiakos took definitive control of the duel and both teams seemed to wait for the final buzzer, as it was clear who would be the winner.
The last quarter was no big deal even though Ford decreased his scoring rhythm. Olimpija managed to cut the lead down to 58-66 with 4 minutes to go, but it was already too late. Olympiakos had dominated in every aspect of the game, especially rebounding (27-37) and Olimpija killed themselves with their poor free throw execution (14 of 22 against 11 of 13 by the Greeks). Another low point for the hosts was Beno Udrih's meager performance which totaled only 3 points at the midway point of the last quarter. In the end Olympiakos took home the nine-point win, 66-75.
Thursday, March 21, 2002