Unicaja secured first place in Group A on Thursday with a commanding 92-69 smashing of Maccabi Electra at the Martin Carpena Arena in Malaga, Spain. It was Unicaja’s seventh consecutive win as head coach Aito Garcia Reneses’s men finished the regular season with an 8-2 record. It also extended the club’s home-court winning streak in the Euroleague to 23 games. Meanwhile Maccabi saw it’s four-game winning run end as it finished the group in third place with a 6-4 record. The hosts took control early as Thomas Kelati drained a pair of three-pointers and Omar Cook and Jiri Welsch also hit from downtown for a 15-2 lead. The advantage would reach 17 before the period ended and Maccabi never got closer than 8 the rest of the way. Boni NDong paced Unicaja with 15 points and 5 blocked shots, Carlos Cabezas and Marcus Haislip added 12 points apiece and Welsch and Kelati had 11 each for the winners. Former Unicaja guard Marcus Brown and Omri Casspi led Maccabi with 13 points each and Lior Eliyahu and Tre Simmons netted 10 apiece in defeat.
Both teams misfired early before Maccabi’s Yaniv Green made a free throw for the game’s first point. Kelati hit from downtown for the game’s first basket. Welsch and Cook added threes before Kelati hit his second for a 13-2 lead, resulting in a Maccabi timeout. Eliyahu came in for the visitors, but Carlos Jimenez hit a jumper to cap a 12-0 Unicaja run before Brown ended the Maccabi drought from the line. Cabezas’s steal, layup and free throw put the hosts up 17. Finally, after more than seven-and-a-half minutes, Eliyahu scored Macabi’s first basket. Unicaja did not let up and Haislip flew high for a tip-in on the offensive glass, but a D’Or Fischer jumper and a Carlos Arroyo teardrop narrowed the gap to 27-14 after 10 minutes.
Cabezas went coast to coast early in the second period to restore Unicaja’s 17-point lead before Casspi battled for a Maccabi basket inside and then threw down an impressive slam to help the visitors gain some momentum. Brown and Eliyahu added baskets as Maccabi turned to a two-three zone that stifled Unicaja for some time and Robert Archibald took a seat after he committed his third foul midway through the period. Arroyo matched Jimenez free throws with a mid-range jumper before Casspi brought Maccabi within single digits for the first time since the opening minutes. NDong muscled Unicaja back up to 43-31. Arroyo sank an important three that kept Maccabi relatively close, 45-36, at halftime.
Welsch started the second half with a long jumper and Archibald stood tall by blocking Casspi at one end and sinking a free throw at the other. Casspi and Eliyahu kept Maccabi from falling to far behind, but Cook’s second three made it 53-40. Brown countered with a tough drive, only to see Cook hit from downtown again. Eliyahu fed Fischer down low for a basket. Archibald attacked the basket for a vicious slam, but committed his fourth foul on the ensuing play and sat down, Haislip dunked for a second-chance basket and NDong drew an unsportsmanlike foul from Casspi. After NDong made free throws, the lead reached 15. Eliyahu kept Maccabi from falling too far behind, but the Unicaja big men answered back and Berni Rodriguez scored in transition as the hosts’ lead shot back up to 68-51. After a Maccabi timeout, Arroyo and Simmons attacked the basket to make it 70-55 heading into the last period.
Haislip converted a three-point play to take the lead to 18 and give Unicaja even more confidence. The pressure on Maccabi didn’t do the visitors any good as they forced up some poor shots, while Cabezas scored a basket plus foul to take the Unicaja advantage to 21. Maccabi kept firing away and would get within 16, but it was too little, too late as German Gabriel drained a three and the hosts pulled away in garbage time for a big win and first place in Group A.
Thursday, January 15, 2009