Spanish Liga title-holders UB Barcelona threw away an 8 point 3rd quarter lead to go down 57-64 to French side Pays d'Aix BAsket 13 at home on Wednesday evening and as such put their chances of qualification to the play-offs in jeopardy.
Having won by 5 points (76-81) in the game in Aix in November, needed at least to keep their losing margin to under 5 to keep themselves above Aix in the table should both clubs end the regular season with the same win/loss record. However, adding insult to injury, Isabel Sanchez missed 2 free-throws with 20 seconds remaining and Aix's Julie Villain then capitalised on a foul at the other end, stretching the lead to 7 points.
Aix started the game very well, and of the two zone defences on display, theirs was the more effective. Barcelona needed the first 5 minutes to waken up and start running the fast break for which they have become well-known throughout the EuroLeague. In particular, Isabel Sanchez was very quick, picking up long passes from both Laia Palau and Sandra Gallego for a series of lay-ups. Aix kept alive only through the inside game, using Magali Lacroix especially, as their outside shooting was nothing short of appalling. They held on to a narrow lead at the end of the first 10 minutes, 13:14.
Barcelona took their first lead at the beginning of the second quarter on a lay-up from Palau, shortly followed by an enormous 3 from Gallego. Aix continued to really struggle from outside (shooting 36% and 0/7 from behind the arc) and was only really saved by Magali Lacroix and Natalie Lesdema in the paint. From then on the lead switched hands several times until Barcelona, through a couple of flashes of brilliance from Palau and Michelle Hendry, began to edge away in the last minutes. Half time score: 31-26.
The hosts switched to man defence in the second half and for the first 5 minutes it proved to be very effective. The University team pulled away to an 8-point lead and looked likely to hold on to it. With 4.30 minutes left, however, Aix's Kristi Harrower decided it was time to make a move and led a full attack, heading the French side on a run which left the hosts more than dazed and confused. A huge 3 from from the top of the key from Lara Mandic handed the lead back to Aix, swiftly followed by a further 2 from Volnaya. Another trey from Barca's Sanchez put the home side ahead going into the last 10 minutes, 45:42.
The final quarter mirrored the second 10 minutes, only this time it was the hosts who could not hit the outside shots. Gallego's hot hands disappeared as she rimmed one 3 after another, whereas at the other end Australian international Harrower showed her experience, putting in a 3, then driving and dishing to her heart's content. Barcelona tried to fight back with runs on the fast break, but kepot giving the ball away on passes inside. With 4 minutes to go Aix already led by 7 (50:57) which they then stretched to 50:61 and the Spaniards appeared at a complete loss at how to reply, especially after Palau picked up her 5th foul and left the game. Aix kept running down the clock and at 1 minute left still held an 8-point advantage. Adrian Williams pulled back one basket for the home team, but it was down to Sanchez with 22 seconds left on the clock to bring the score under a 5-point difference. But nerves took over and both free-throws hit the rim. Villain hit 1 from 2 at the other end, sealing the win for Aix and bringing them a step closer to qualification.