Benetton climbed up and grabbed a piece of first place in Group A on Thursday by running over visiting Union Olimpija 81-66 at home in Treviso, Italy. A stellar night from the arc by Drew Nicholas, who hit 6 of 8 triples on his way to 26 points, never allowed Olimpija much chance for reaction as the hosts rolled to the final buzzer. Benetton improved to 5-2 and put itself in a three-way first-place tie in Group A with Tau Ceramica and Zalgiris. Olimpija dropped to 2-5. For the winners, Andrea Bargnani added 15 points, making 3 of 4 triples, and Petar Popovic posted 13 with a good performance inside. Once again, Yotam Halperin paced Olimpija with his 21 points and Teemu Rannikko added 17.
Marcus Goree worked its way up the baseline to open the scoring race, and Popovic added a clean turnaround jumper for the quick 4-2 after Dragisa Drobnjak had scored first for Olimpija. Goree landed the first trey of the night and Nicholas copied him for a 10-6 Benetton lead. Halperin also stroke from the arc to cut the deficit but the guests didn't close the defensive rebounds and Benetton had second options as Popovic took advantage of that for the 15-9 after his three-point play. Halperin and Rannikko played fast in offense for Olimpija as the latter found a long open shot and in the following play he added two free throws to pull the guests within 15-13. The teams exchanged triples in consecutive plays and no one pulled away when new free throws by Rannikko made it 22-20, however Matteo Soragna replied with a fast layup and free throws by Uros Slokar closed the first period with a 28-22 Benetton lead.
Bargnani landed a triple to start the second quarter and Nicholas added another soon for 34-24. Olimpija could only find free throws after Benetton's tough and tight defense but the hosts kept finding easy options in offense to keep going with Popovic dominating the paint. More mistakes of Olimpija, who was helpless against Benetton's defense, led to a 44-29 Benetton edge when Ramunas Siskauskas found the bottom of the net. Nicholas blasted his third triple without miss and the guests could do nothing about it. The physical superiority of Benetton was useful for the hosts on both ends of the court as the lead soared to 47-30 at the break.
Bargnani and Dragisa Drobnjak opened fire for each side in the second half but Rannikko left two straight leyups for 50-36 but at the same time, Toni Dijan committed his fifth foul with 17 minutes to go. Nicholas continued raining triples but Olimpija stayed calm and played at its pace but Nicholas blasted his sixth triple in seven attempts for 63-45. Benetton relaxed from its dominant position and the guests found some good shots which forged a 0-6 run for a 65-53 score after 30 minutes.
Bargnani appeared with a dunk and a triple to start the last period and on the other end, Benetton defense forced a violation of the shot-clock on Olimpija, as Nikos Zisis blasted a new triple for 73-55. Both teams knew what the outcome was going to be and they relaxed on both ends. Benetton coach David Blatt used some players that normally do not get so much time on court as Rannikko scored for 76-60. In the last plays, Olimpija pulled within 78-66 but there was no way the final outcome could be changed as Luca Sottana blasted a last triple for a 81-66 Benetton win.
Thursday, December 15, 2005