The Skipper Bologna that its fans expected all season rose up in the final quarter on Wednesday for a pivotal 76-71 home win against visiting Cibona VIP in Group A. The victory will be remembered as the first under new coach Jasmin Repesa, who was Cibona's coach two weeks ago. But it might also be remembered as the day Vlado Scepanovic and Mate Skelin, Skipper's main off-season acquisitions, took over. Scepanovic scored half his 18 points on three-pointers in the final quarter as Skipper rallied from a six-point deficit. Skelin helped make sure of things on the inside and Skipper had a key victory, and a 3-4 record, despite the big challenge by Cibona. The main gun for the visitors was another new face, Jerod Ward, who filled up the baskets with 36 points in his first Euroleague appearance. But the debuts of both Ward and the man who brought him to Cibona, Aleksandar Petrovic, ended in a loss that dropped Cibona to 3-4 as well. Lubos Barton added 15 points for the winners, Gianluca Basile 12 and Thomas Van Den Spiegel 10. No other Cibona player besides Ward reached double figures.
Petrovic gave room to Ward in the starting five, while Repesa lined up Scepanovic to give confidence to the Skipper shooter. Cibona started with flex offense plays and took an early 2-9 lead with Ward working the post for 7 of those points. Skipper was confused into a couple turnovers and Cibona made them pay. Running on the break now, Ward popped a three-pointer for a 2-12 Cibona lead after 5 minutes. Forward Lubos Barton stepped in for Skipper to guard Ward. Galanda stopped the bleeding with a couple of free throws, but Cibona had good moving of the ball and kept the lead through 7-16. Center Niksa Prkacin overplayed Skipper big man Mate Skelin, and Skipper tried to give the ball inside to involve the center. Prkacin spent early three fouls stopping that option, but Skipper did not take advantage of the inside game anymore. Cibona had the chance to keep the lead, thanks once again to Ward, who just kept pouring in points, a total of 16 in the first quarter. The visitors led 10-21 before Barton tried to lit up his team with 4 points in a row. But Ward hit another three to close the quarter, with Cibona ahead by double digits, 14-24.
Led by guard Gianmarco Pozzecco, with two assists in a row exploiting his mismatch against bigger Zoran Planinic, Skipper hit a 6-0 run that made it 20-24 and lit up PalaDozza Arena. Petrovic benched Ward to give some minutes to Marijan Mance. Thomas Van Den Spiegel detonated a big dunk on pick-and-roll play with Pozzecco. Petrovic put in smaller guard Davor Kus to guard Pozzecco, and Kus stopped the hosts comeback at 22-26. Ward was back as soon as Skipper came closer and suddenly hit another three to restore the visitors to a 22-29 lead. With Pozzecco on court, Skipper played with much enthusiasm and less fear, and kept getting back into the game. Cibona center Haris Mujezinovic wasted 4 free throws and Skipper shortened the gap down to 30-31. Mujezinovic take revenge and hit a big triple, but Skipper stayed close enough to surpass the guests when Gianluca Basile dropped his own three-pointer with less than one minute to go. But Ward was there to restor the Cibona lead at 37-39 from downtown, and a Tomislav Ruzic free throw gave the Croatians a 37-40 halftime lead.
The game rhythm decreased after intermission, with both teams trying to play half court basketball. Cibona tried to take advantage of Ward working the post, while Skipper tried once again to involve Skelin. Defenses closed on both, however, and the teams combined for only one basket from the field in the first 4 minutes. Cibona kept a small lead, 41-43, but Ward armed his hand once again from three to boost it to 41-46. Giacomo Galanda stopped the mini-run with a lay up, but then spent his fourth and fifth fouls in succession. Cibona still led by 4 with 3 minutes to go, 47-51, when both teams switched to 2-3 zone defense. Skipper found two points with Pozzecco, but then suffered a 0-4 mini-run by Ward, who reached 29 points in giving Cibona a six-point lead, 49-55, after three quarters. Barton got Skipper's comeback started with a big three-pointer on first possession of the fourth quarter. Mance missed a couple of layups for Cibona, which allowed Scepanovic to tie it 55-55 with his own triple. Ward missed a three, but Scepanovic didn't, and Skipper's 9-0 run of triples put the hosts up 58-55. Prkacin stopped the slide with 4 points in the post for Cibona, cutting the deficit to 60-59, but he was suddenly fouled out. Skipper lengthened the lead to 64-59 from the line, then Basile hit from deep for a 67-61 lead. Ward did not surrender and hit his own downtown shot for 68-64 with 2:15 to go. But Scepanovic was hot, and answered from beyond the arc, and this one sounded like the end, 71-64 with 1:40 to go. Skelin grabbed a key rebound and made sure with 2 free throws and the team that Skipper expected all season was suddenly working like new.
Wednesday, December 4, 2002