Virtus Segafredo Bologna had a magical 7DAYS EuroCup opening night on offense against Frutti Extra Bursaspor last week. The Italian champs set a club regular-season scoring record with 101 points and another club record for three-point shooting accuracy by making 9 of 14 triples (64.3 percent). However, against ratiopharm Ulm in Round 2, Virtus had to switch to another weapon to claim the victory.
Virtus was good enough in offense in the early going but struggled to stop Ulm at the other end and allowed 39 points in the first 15 minutes, which opened the door for a double-digit lead for the visitors in the second quarter. It was then that Alessandro Pajola came through with a couple of steals and Marco Belinelli added a block that switched the hosts to another version of themselves.
“It was probably our best defensive game so far. This is a very tough competition, and they are a very good team, a tough team, so we are happy about the game,” said Virtus head coach Sergio Scariolo, who also commented about how his team reacted at that point: “I think our first quarter, defensively, was not good at all, but from then on, we played really good defense.”
Virtus's new defensive approach not only served to spark a 10-0 run that tied the game, 39-39, less than 3 minutes later, but it was a prelude of what was going to happen in the following 15-minute span, in which Ulm was allowed to score only 15 points.
“It’s always good that we got to play more consistently in defense. Hopefully, we can play better in defense and reach our goals,” said center Mam Jiateh, giving value to the change his team experienced during the game.
The hosts managed to come back from a 40-44 margin at halftime and enter the last quarter with a solid 62-53 edge, which extended to 68-54 early in the last quarter. Even though Ulm fought back and came within 80-74 in crunch time, Virtus turned to defense again to hold off its opponent. Another couple of steals, one by Pajola and another by Belinelli were converted into buckets by Kyle Weems that rebuilt a double-digit edge, 84-74, which Ulm couldn’t make up for.
In the end, Virtus forced the guests into 26 turnovers, which turned into 30 points, compared to 20 by Ulm. That 10-point difference looked like a crucial factor to help the hosts win. So did Ulm head coach Jaka Lakovic recognize: “In the second half, they clearly were a better team. We were not able to control our offense, we made too many mistakes, too many turnovers that led to Virtus’s easy points… It was a kind of hara-kiri.”
Those easy points were also important for Virtus to overcome a poor shooting night from long distance.
“Our three-point shooting was a little bit erratic, but we got a lot of open looks, which I liked,” revealed Scariolo after the game, in which his team shot just 3-of-20 from behind the arc. But fortunately for his team, they didn’t need more thanks to their defense.