Ray of Hope
Posted by Salman Mitha
Posted in Basketball
Ulm’s European Dream Continues
ratiopharm Arena, Ulm – John Bryant scored 30 points and Allan Ray added 11 of his 13 points during a crucial stretch starting in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter to lead ratiopharm ulm to an 85-51 win over Uxue Bilbao Basket in Game One of the Eurocup Quarterfinals.
Fans were treated to a battle between solid teams with two stars, Bryant and Kostas Vasileiadis, duking it out in the first half. At times it seemed they were the only two on the court, exchanging three-pointers and buckets. In the first quarter, Bryant scored a bucket to give Ulm a 16-14 lead, but Vasileiadis sparked a 14-0 run and a 28-16 lead for Bilbao. Bryant scored one more time, but the Spaniards led 30-18 after ten minutes.
Bilbao held onto a 10-point lead midway through the second quarter and threatened to run away, but it was the BEKO BBL’s MVP from last season that kept Ulm close. Bryant would score five points, including a three-point play, followed by a three-pointer from Keaton Nankivil and a bucket by Per Günther tied the game back up at 36-36 with 3:56 left in the first half. Vasileiadis nailed a couple of more treys from long distance to ensure a 45-42 halftime lead for the visitors.
Bryant tallied 23 points after one half, shooting 10 of 12 from the field, while Vasileiadis was hot, including 4-for-7 from beyond the arc for 19 points.
“We had a very good start and were very focused with our defense, offensively we had a good percentage,” analyzed Bilbao head coach Fotis Katsikaris. “What I didn’t like, what I saw, we are not an offensive team and didn’t want to lose concentration on the defensive end, which happened in the 2nd quarter. We started to play individually, we didn’t have good options on offense and gave them a chance to score transition points which is one of their strong points.”
“They are an unbelievable team and we struggled to defend Vasileiadis,” admitted Ulm head coach Thorsten Leibenath. “I also felt we had to make the right adjustments and play more physical and we will make our runs. At halftime I knew we were in the game and a win is possible.”
Bryant continued his touch from the field at the restart, nailing his only two three-pointers of the game and gave Ulm the lead 50-47. Shortly thereafter, he picked up his third foul and would have to sit most of the third quarter.
“John was unbelievable,” said Leibenath later. “Then knocks down those 3’s at the beginning of the second half – I felt, he’s from a different planet.”
As for Vasileiadis, he left his hot hand in the locker room, Ulm adjusted their defense and didn’t allow the Greek an open shot.
“We had to play him with maximum physicality,” added Leibenath. “Not let him play in that comfort zone with space to put up a shot, force him to put the ball on the floor.”
And it worked, as Vasileiadis even missed both free-throw attempts in the third, and would only score from the charity stripe late in the fourth for his only second half points, finishing with 21 points.
With the two leading scorers of the game struggling, so did the teams, as the scoring slowed down. Finally, Fran Pilepic nailed a trey and bucket, Steven Esterkamp answered with a three-pointer himself to start up the scoring to lead the teams to the crucial part of the game. Bryant’s free-throw tied the game at 58-58, and Ray scored the final basket of the third quarter to give Ulm the all important 60-58 lead heading into the final frame.
Ray took over, scoring again. Then Lance Jeter, who was quiet up to that point, got a bucket and a foul, and then followed up with a three-pointer – his only 6 points of the game. After Sebastian Betz added another trey – his only shot of the game – Ulm led 71-60. Timeout Bilbao with 8:15 left.
Ray would then score the next seven points for Ulm, getting the lead up to 12.
“I finally got into a rhythm, that’s all it took,” said Ray. “My teammates were giving me the ball, coaches finally running some plays, it felt good.”
However, Axel Hervelle was heating up, also scoring seven of his 13 points during this stretch to keep it close for Bilbao, 78-71. However, Nankivil would follow with a slam and a three-pointer, Günther’s bucket would ensure victory with an 85-73 lead and only a few minutes left.
Bilbao crawled back thanks to Lamont Hamilton’s three-pointer and steal-breakaway dunk to cut the point differential down only 4 points. Ulm won’t have a cushion, and Bilbao will have renewed hope playing at home.
“We are a team that fights all 40 minutes every game,” said Katsikaris. “With the last effort to get close and get the best result possible. When we go to Bilbao at home, we expect the help from our fans and get to the semi-finals.”
“If someone offers me a win against Bilbao, I take it no matter the point differential,” stated Leibenath. “They are a great team, the positive effect is beating a team of that quality. We go with nothing to lose, our goal is to win (next week). We go there to just have fun and try to surprise another team on the road.”
Vasileiadis expects the same effort from their opponents but a different result. “Ulm is good, but we play good teams each week in our league, and we have the confidence to win.”
Ray added, the team will be ready. “We know we have our work cut out for us, and we know what is at stake when we go there. Now we have to play even harder going into their home, it’s going to a battle.”
The second leg is next week on March 12th at Bilbao Arena. The winner by aggregate points after the two games will move onto the Eurocup semifinals.
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