On a night when the mighty were falling near and far, Benetton held serve in Treviso with a 96-82 decision against a Cibona team that looked just as dangerous through most of the game. The victory allowed Benetton to take over second place in Group A alone at 3-1, just behind undefeated Barcelona, while Cibona joined a pack of four 2-2 teams tied for third. A 12-0 run in the final 5 minutes decided things for Benetton, which won by rebounding and moving the ball better. Jorge Garbajosa was key to that late rally and led the winners with 20 points. Marcelo Nicola came off the bench for 19 points, Tyus Edney added 19, Trajan Langdon 15 and Riccardo Pittis 10, plus 6 assists and 5 steals. Cibona had the game's high scorer in Niksa Prkacin. Davor Kus contributed 16 more, Marijan Mance and Tomislav Ruzic 12 each, but center Haris Mujezinovic was shut out with no points in 28 minutes on the floor.
Benetton fans were happy to start the game with Nicola on the bench, two days after he fractured his nose colliding with Garbajosa's head at the end of practice. They werenot happy to see Marijan Mance knock down his first shots and simultaneously draw 2 fouls in as many minutes against Langdon, who was quickly replaced by Massimo Bulleri. Cibona was ahead already 7-14 when Benetton coach Ettroe Messina called for a timeout to talk about it. Until then, Kus was anticipating Edney's moves and Prkacin was taking over in the paint. Messina tried his own Croatian guys, Mario Stojic and Kresimir Loncar, but Cibona kept playing fluid offense and well-ordered defense. Kus drove the basket again and Cibona was on top with authority at 34-19, but a Garbajosa triple permitted the locals to cut the deficit to "just" 12 points, 22-34.
A masked Nicola woke up Benetton in the second quarter, but not until after Mance and Kus kept pushing Cibona ahead, to 24-40. Benetton's reaction came as a 10-0 run over 4 minutes that featured Langdon making acrobatic shots and Nicola shutting down Prkacin. Soon, Pittis stole a ball at midcourt and Edney hit a triple for the 43-43 tie with 2 minutes until the half. The masked man, Nicola, would sink another three to give the locals an unlikely 49-46 advantage at the interval.
Ruzic gave a charge to Cibona to start the third quarter, putting his signature on a 53-57 lead for the visitors after 24 minutes. Treviso replied with patience: Garbajosa and Nicola (now without mask as a pale, brave rider) offer solidity under the basket and at the same time speed on offense. Their combination of shots produced a remarkable 13-0 run for Benetton in just a couple minutes, as the scoreboard changed to 66-57.
The final 10 minutes were very hot for both the teams, but Benetton's defense tightened and was able to limit the talent of the Croatians. Baskets by Edney for Benetton and Slaven Rimac for Cibona left the gap at 73-67 with 6 minutes left. But then Garbajosa and Langdon got too loose and the result was yet another big run, this one 12-0 that covered 4 minutes and put Benetton in charge at 92-78. Cibona had run out of gas and no time was left to refuel. A big scare was over for Benetton.
Thursday, October 31, 2002