It took quite a comeback, but Ulker has knocked Adecco Asvel from the ranks of the undefeated with a 65-63 decision at home in Istanbul on Wednesday in Group C. A game that Asvel led by 20 late in the second quarter turned slowly towards the home team after that, much to the relief and delight of 5,000 spectators at Abdi Ipekci Sports Hall. Ulker's big three scorers - Joseph Blair, Melvin Booker and Virginius Praskevicius - did not have a basket between them in the first quarter, but they were there to lead the victory rally. Praskevicius hit the go-ahead basket with more than a minute left, Booker added an insurance basket and Blair made a big block to prevent Asvel from getting any closer. Blair finished with another double double, 22 points and 11 rebounds. Booker added 13 points and Praskevicius 12 points and 6 rebounds. For Asvel, Robert Gulyas came off the bench for 16 points and 5 rebounds, while Stevin Smith, Thierry Gadou and Davor Marcelic had 9 each. Both teams are now 2-1, behind undefeated CSKA (3-0) in Group C.
Asvel had a perfect start to the game, taking down defensive rebounds and fastbreaking through an early 0-10 run. The blast was highlighted by back-to-back three-pointers from Marcelic and an inside basket by Bonato that gave the visitors an 11-point lead, 3-14 after 6 minutes. Ulker, on the other hand, could not make any shots, and some of them were easy. It held at those 3 points for a full 8 minutes, and indeed would only get one basket to fall all quarter, that by Kerem Gonlum. The only other Ulker points came on 5 free throws. Meanwhile, Asvel kept rolling to a 7-18 lead and that was without the help of their leading scorer the previous two games, Smith. He finally got to the line with 2 seconds remaining and made both his shots to top off Asvel's big first quarter at 7-20.
Ulker needed to react quickly in the second quarter, and when each of its main scoring trio - Blair, Booker and Praskevicius - got his first basket, things were looking up for the home fans at 13-20. Asvel would go almost 4 minutes without scoring at all, but that gave Ulker a bit of false security. Soon enough, Asvel was off and running again, this time on a 0-15 blitz that featured all new contributors: center Robert Guylas with 6 points inside, Harold Mrazek on a three-pointer, Simon Petrov at the foul line, Andre Owens on a jumper and Vasco Evtimov with a layup that made it 15-35. Worst of all for Ulker was that Asvel needed little more than 3 minutes to do so much damage. But now it was the home side's turn to counterpunch. Ulker rattled off the next 8 points taking advantage of some aggressive defense to cut the deficit to 23-35 on 3 free throws by Serkan Erdogan. A Smith three-pointer was answered with a dunk by Blair and the Asvel lead stood at 27-38 when 20 minutes were complete.
The Ulker comeback happened quickly after halftime, as Tutku Acik nailed a three-pointer and 2 free throws around a Blair dunk and a Booker layup for 9-0 run to start the third quarter. Asvel had to hold on from there despite the absence of Gulyas, who had foul trouble. Thierry Gadou kept the visitors alive with consecutive baskets. A triple by Booker drew Ulker within 47-49 and then Erdogan's fastbreak basket pulled the home team all the way back to just 1 point down, 49-50, going into the final quarter.
In that last quarter, both sides seemed nervous as the scoring stalled, in part due to an Asvel zone intended to slow down Ulker's hot hands. Praskevicius broke things open, however, with a three-pointer that tied the game 52-52, then Booker lobbed a perfect alley-oop to Blair for a 54-52 Ulker lead with 7 minutes to go. They would be breathtaking minutes for both sides. Bonato's foul shots with under 3 minutes left equalled the score again, 59-59. But then Praskevicius made the go-ahead jumper for 61-59. After Gadou missed the first of 2 free throws, Booker made Asvel pay by coming down court and nailing a jump shot for 63-60. Blair then blocked Gadou's shot attempt underneath with 18 seconds left and, though Owens scored last with a three for Asvel, Booker had already finished the win at the foul line for Ulker.
Wednesday, October 23, 2002