Though it was far away from Athens, AEK won the game it needed to remain in the struggle for the Final Four with a resounding 69-95 Group G decision over Union Olimpija in Ljubljana. The so-called "Greek group" is more apt than ever, because AEK's victory drew it to 2-2, within a victory of co-leaders Panathinaikos and Olympiakos, both 3-1 after the former topped the latter in Athens on Thursday. With the defeat, Union Olimpija is 0-4 and mathematically out of the running. With motivation on its side and the season's smallest crowd at Tivoli Arena in Ljubljana, AEK dominated the game from the early going and really was never challenged by the newly-crowned Adriatic League champions. JR Holden was the main offensive weapon for AEK, finishing with 26 points. Demos Dikoudis and Mikalis Kakiouzis added 18 each. For the hosts, Haris Mujezinovic hit 17 and Jiri Welsch netted 14.
The balance at the beginning lasted for a few minutes only, as AEK's superiority was evident in several aspects. Under the rims, Dikoudis dominated the rebounding and also took great shots out of the paint, while on the back court, Holden's playmaking helped to increase AEK's lead little by little. In minute 9, the score showed 14-20 after a three-point play by Holden and a three-point shot by Chris Carr. That was only the beginning of something that not even the timeout called by Olimpija coach Zmago Sagadin could stop. The biggest problem for the hosts was Holden, who hit 17 points in the first half, and ruined Beno Udrih's night. But Vlatko Ilievski and, from time to time, Jure Zdovc, were also unable to stop the guest point guard. With the 13 points by Dikoudis and the 12 by Kakiouzis, the Greeks were ahead all the time, and just one minute before the break, they had climbed to a 10-point lead, 47-37.
Even though Zdovc and coach Sagadin had said that this would be Olimpija's first win in the Top 16, the will to win of the Slovenians didn't seem evident Thursday night. The motivation and the obligation to win were on AEK's side, as was the quality of play on the court. Olimpija was unable to score its first basket of the third quarter until minute 25, and by then, the game was already broken open. The gap in the score was 17 points, 42-59, with Holden already up to 21 himself. In minute 26, Olimpija made its best move of the night by approaching to within 49-61, but in the last quarter, AEK reacted again and boosted its lead back to 59-74. The drama was heading back to Athens, and AEK was going to be a part of it again.
Thursday, March 28, 2002