Benetton of Treviso made good on a season's worth of stellar basketball when it advanced to the Final Four with an inspired 73-86 road win at Skipper Bologna in the last game of the Top 16 on Thursday. The victory meant that Benetton did not have to worry about Barcelona, with whom it was tied for first place. Instead, the visitors from Treviso led for most of the game and then fended off a fourth-quarter comeback attempt by Skipper. Tyus Edney led the charge with 20 points for Benetton and Jorge Garbajosa added 17. Newcomer Charlie Bell nailed the three-pointer late that stopped Skipper from completing a comeback. That victory meant everything, because Barcelona was winning handily at home against Scavolini. Benetton and Barcelona ended up tied at 4-2, with Benetton advancing on the tie-breaker for point difference between the two. Benetton won their second matchup by 14 points, Barcelona the first by a single point. All of which means Benetton will return to Bologna on Friday, May 3, to face defending champion Kinder Bologna in one semifinal of the Final Four, while Panathinaikos of Athens and Maccabi Tel Aviv face off in the other. The winners will meet for the Euroleague title on Sunday, May 5.
Skipper started the game trying to show that nothing was for free at PalaDozza, and if Benetton wanted the ticket for the Final Four, it would have to earn it on the court. Still, Benetton took the first major lead of the game at 8-16 thanks to a great four-point play by Garbajosa and fastbreaks that came off steals by veteran Riccardo Pittis. Skipper hung in with Davor Marcelic's one-on-one offense, but Treviso had hot hands on offence and hit the three-point jackpot, twice with Marcelo Nicola and once with Sergei Chikalkin. Skipper was forced to switch to a 2-3 zone defence, but Garbajosa's free throw stamped a 10-point lead for Benetton at 15-25. Skipper tried to move the ball, but found only a few fouls to exploit from the line. When newcomer Charlie Bell hit a jumper at the buzzer, it gave Benetton 9 points to defend in the second quarter in the form of an 18-27 advantage.
Skipper was back with man to man defence in the second quarter, and on a couple of good defensive plays, Skipper made a mini-run to put its nose back in the game. Benetton still held a six-point lead 25-31, however, when Bostjan Nachbar turned it on and found, thanks to great teamwork on rebounds, two shots on the break that put his team's lead back to double digits. The tempo of the game got higher and higher, and Benetton found continual success on the boards. exploited the great team boxout. A Skipper junior, Stefano Mancinelli, came out to try to guard Nachbar, but Benetton kept the rhythm of the game and kept its lead safe unil halftime. Many mistakes and turnovers prevented Skipper from coming back, especially at one point when it came within six. One of those led to a fastbreak layup by Massimo Bulleri fixed the score at 36-47 for the half.
Benetton started the third quarter with great concentration and allowed almost nothing to Skipper. Benetton worked at developing its open shots and found Garbajosa three times in a row open behind the three-point line. Boom, boom, boom. Garbajosa nailed all three shots, and Benetton got closer to the Final Four with each shot. Skipper, meanwhile, continued struggling on offense to find anyone except Marko Milic next to the basket. As always, Edney gave great tempo to his team, going one-on-one and opening the court for Nicola and Nachbar to shoot. Chikalkin and Bulleri also sank points that seemed to sentence the outcome, as Benetton ran away to a lead of 19 points, 71-52, after three quarters.
Benetton seemed to own the game, but with its crowd still behind it, Skipper roared back with a remarkable 15-2 run founded on great intensity and highlighted by a three-pointer from the junior, Mancinelli. Suddenly, with Anthony Goldwire spurring on Skipper, Benetton saw its 19-point lead shrunk down to 6 points, 73-67, with 5 minutes to go. Benetton had not scored from the field for 5 minutes, but now Garbajosa emerged again to for a three-point play under the basket. That was negated by Nicola's flagrant foul on Giacomo Galanda, who scored all the 4 points for Skipper to cut the deficit to 73-77. That's when Bell stepped up and iced a triple that was the snapshot of the victory and of Benetton's pass to the Final Four.
Thursday, April 18, 2002