Ulker Istanbul soared to an important road win on Thursday at previously undefeated Union Olimpija by 82-91 in Group A. Melvin Booker's 25 points, and 19 points in key moments by newcomer Brad Traina, lifted the Turkish team to a 2-1 record in the group. Olimpija drops to 2-1. For Ulker also, Joe Blair was there with his usual double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds. For the hosts, it was not very useful that five players scored in double digits. Roberts Stelmahers and Marino Bazdaric paced Olimpija with 15 points each. Vladimer Boisa added 13, Dzenan Rahimic 12 and Marko Maravic 11.
The first lead for Ulker was 1-4 after a minute of silence for the tragic incidents in Istanbul earlier in the week, and it went to 6-10 a few minutes later, by which time Blair had already had scored 6 points. In the same minute, Olimpija was called its fifth team foul while Ulker had received only one, and would end the period with just two. But it's not possible to win at the Tivoli without defense, and even less if Bazdaric and Stelmahers hit them from the arc, and that's precisely what happened as Olimpija got its first lead of the night, 16-13. The lead increased a bit in the last seconds of the period but a triple by Booker left things at 24-21 after 10 minutes.
Booker was on fire, just like Haluk Yildrim a minute later, and the Turks were soon able to even the proceedings at 24-24. The instructions of Ulker coach Tolga Ongoren were clear: improve in defense and don't leave so many open shots. The players agreed and the boss only had to care for the rotations, as tiredness became evident. The hosts jumped ahead again behind its reserves, 37-31 in minute 17, thanks to Saso Ozbolt's triple and Aloysiius Anagonye's dunk. But that joy lasted for only a while as 2 three-point plays by Efthimios Rentzias and Serkan Erdogan tied the game at 37-37. In the last 30 seconds of the first half, Ulker used 2 steals by Tutku Acik and a Rentzias triple to jump ahead 39-42 at the break. The Turks had sealed a 2-11 run when Stelmahers was not on court for Olimpija.
An easy basket on the first offensive play of the second half for Blair also gave Ulker a maximum advantage that Traina quicly increased with a triple in minute 24, 45-51. Olimpija started to rally, 49-51, but Ulker wouldn't let go of the lead. With another triple from Traina, the guests pulled a little more but Olimpija was always there to come back in time, 55-56. Traina though, was unstoppable and another one of his triples left the guests 3 points ahead after 30 minutes, 60-63.
If Traina was the protagonist of the third quarter, he was also the main man of the decisive stanza as he kept on pouring points, and they all arrived in the key moments, dunking for 60-67 and hitting a jumper for 65-75. The fans at Tivoli started to lose any hopes they still had even though there was still plenty of time to come back. But the story of the previous week at Pau-Orthez didn't happen again. This time, Ulker, conducted by a great Booker, didn't let the chance escape to take the first road win of the season and left his team in a safe place to secure the final win in the last minutes.
Thursday, November 20, 2003