Rolling to its fourth consecutive Group C victory, Ulker put on another defensive exhibition to beat the Opel Skyliners 79-60 at home in Istanbul, Turkey. Ulker improved to 5-3 in the standings, assured of a second-place tie with Panathinaikos. The Skyliners, playing without injured leading scorer Tyrone Ellis, dropped to 2-6 on the group board. Serkan Erdogan led the winners with 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting, Virginijus Praskevicius added 16, Dion Glover 13 and Eurelijus Zukauskas 10 for Ulker, which allowed Opel to score just 40 points in the opening three quarters. Last week's MVP, Chris Williams, led the Skyliners with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Robert Maras added 14 points and Pascal Roller 13 for Opel. Ulker posted impressing numbers on defense, outrebounding Opel 33-17 and forcing Opel into 18 turnovers.
Ulker started the game looking for Zukauskas, and their big man obliged by dominating the game in the early going. He followed free throws with an easy basket for a 4-2 Ulker lead. Roller answered with a big three, but the guests struggled in defense, as Ulker played with long possessions, getting each and every player involved. A slam dunk by Glover ignited a 10-2 run in which Saulius Stombergas drilled a three-pointer and Zukauskas added 4 points, enough to give Ulker a 14-7 lead. Opel were limited to just 2 points in 4 minutes with Williams scoring near the basket. The guests improved once they started to look for their frontcourt, as Maras added two easy layups, while Williams' basket-plus-foul brought the Skyliners within 18-16. A free throw by Glover and a mid-range jumper by Kerem Tunceri extended Ulker's margin to 21-18 after 10 minutes.
Opel fired back early in the second, as three-pointers by Mladjen Slvivancanin and Roller made it a one-point game at 25-24. Ulker did not panic, however, as Praskevicius drilled a three from the top of the key, and added a mid-range jumper to lift the hosts out of trouble at 30-24. Erdogan drilled a three, his first points of the game, for a 33-26 Ulker edge, as now Fatih Solak intimidated anyone near the hosts' basket. Roller stepped up for Opel with a mid-range jumper, but Erdogan was on fire now. He followed a three-pointer with a five-meter jumper to post a double-digit Ulker margin at 38-28. Williams came to the rescue with a power layup, but free throws by Praskevicius preserved for Ulker a 40-30 margin at halftime.
Ulker lost control early in the third, committing 2 quick turnovers while Jukka Matinen made a three-point play for Opel. Ulker tried to get back in track with a tip-in by Zukauskas, but Maras drilled a mid-range jumper and Williams added a layup in penetracion to make it a five-point game at 42-37. Ulker stopped struggling against Opel's strong man-to-man defense once Erdogan stepped up with a mid-range jumper and Gonlum added a put-back dunk. Ulker's edge was back to double digits, 47-37. Opel could not find the way through Ulker's defense to the basket now. Meanwhile, Ulker used a 7-0 run capped by Stombergas' three to get its biggest lead so far, 54-40, after 30 minutes.
The Skyliners needed a quick comeback and Williams stepped up with 4 points and a big block early in the final quarter. Sljivancanin added a three-pointer and Alex King a reverse layup to cap a 2-9 run which made it a seven-point game, 56-49, as the local fans started to wonder. The drama didn't last long, as Praskevicius made free throws and Glover a fast break layup off a steal for a new double-digit Ulker lead, 60-49. The Skyliners still did not give up, however Ulker now found Praskevicius for 2 bombs from downtown and a 66-53 lead with less than 5 minutes to go. After an Opel timeout, 5 quick points by Glover sealed the outcome, as Ulker took an important step forwards to reach the Top 16.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004