There was only one team standing after an intense 40-minute battle that went down to the wire in Malaga, Spain, and that was Unicaja, which took a huge step toward the Top 16 from Group B by edging Lottomatica Roma 68-66 on Wednesday night. Unicaja improved to 6-7 and joins a three-way tie with Partizan and Cibona for fourth place in the group standings. Partizan hosts Unicaja in the regular season finale in a make-or-break showdown in which the winner will have a Top 16 berth guaranteed. Meanwhile, Lottomatica dropped to 5-8 and will carry on fighting to make the Top 16, but it needs to win its final regular season game against Cibona in order to keep its chances alive. Florent Pietrus became the game hero by scoring the game-winning layup at the buzzer. Daniel Santiago had 13 points for Unicaja, Jiri Welsch added 12, Carlos Cabezas 11 and Marko Tusek 10 against his former team. Dejan Bodiroga had 17 points for Roma, David Hawkins added 15, Ognjen Askrabic 12 and Mire Chatman 10. The game went down to the wire and saw as many as 11 lead changed before Chatman tied it at 66-66. Hawkins missed an off-balanced shot, while Pepe Sanchez fed Pietrus for a left-handed reverse layup at the buzzer.
Chatman needed just 15 seconds to bury the first three-pointer of the game, but Carlos Jimenez immediately answered with a layup. Unicaja tried to run its offense through Santiago, as he hit a free throw and added a layup for a 5-3 Unicaja edge. Roma struggled to score and soon entered the foul bonus. Meanwhile, Berni Rodriguez scored in transition and Cabezas capped a 9-0 run with a driving layup. Roma did not give up, as Alessandro Tonolli buried a long two-pointer, Chatman added a fast break layup and Hawkins threw down a dunk. Bodiroga banked in a short jumper and added a three-point play for a 10-14 Roma lead, endingg a 1-11 run. Rodriguez hit free throws, but Hawkins erased them with a fast break layup and Chatman added a layup for a 12-18 Roma lead. Unicaja called timeout and Cabezas shined with a breakaway dunk and added foul shots. Welsch beat the buzzer with a driving layup for a 19-18 Unicaja edge after 10 minutes
Askrabic buried one from downtown early in the second quarter and soon added a free throw for a 19-22 Roma edge. Unicaja went scoreless for almost three minutes, during which Askrabic nailed another triple. Iñaki De Miguel fired in a mid-range jumper and Pepe Sanchez buried an off-balanced rainbow jumper that got the crowd back into the game. Roma struggled to score now, as Unicaja excelled on defense, not allowing any easy shots. Tusek stepped up with a second-chance basket, good for a 25-25 tie. Bodiroga scored inside, but a motivated Tusek struck from downtown to put Unicaja back ahead. Hawkins hit free throws, but Sanchez scored against Chatman in the low post for a 30-28 Unicaja edge. Hawkins shined with a big dunk and free throw that came with it, while free throws by De Miguel, Bodiroga and Tusek fixed the halftime score at 34-33.
Santiago had a huge block on Loukas Mavrokefalidis to keep Unicaja focused in defense after the break. He followed a free throw with a tip-in to give his team a 37-33 edge. Luca Garri shined with an acrobatic basket that Santiago erased with foul shots. Garri scored again, but Welsch answered from downtown for a 5-point Unicaja lead. It didn't last long, as Askrabic followed Bodiroga's triple with a basket inside to tie the game at 42-42. Unicaja switched to a 2-3 zone defense, but Hawkins broke it with a bomb from downtown, good for a 43-45 Roma lead. Jimenez scored in penetration, but Bodiroga hit another triple. Welsch and Jimenez scored back-to-back layups, and even when Garri hit a jumper, Santiago made free throws for a 51-50 Unicaja edge. Cabezas fired in one from downtown, but Jacopo Giachetti replied with a short jumper. Welsch dunked it and matched Hawkins's free throws with a buzzer-beating layup, good for a 59-54 Unicaja lead after three quarters.
Rodriguez scored in penetration right at the start of the final period, as Roma kept struggling to score. Tonolli rescued the guests with a jumper and Askrabic fired in his third three-pointer to cause Unicaja to call timeout at 61-59. The hosts were scoreless for more than four minutes, missing 7 consecutive shots. Meanwhile, Bodiroga showed all his talent with a driving layup that tied the game at 61-61 midway through the fourth quarter. Santiago scored in the paint and Tusek fired in a crucial three-pointer, leading to Roma calling timeout at 66-61. Hawkins hit free throws and Chatman drew an unsportsmanlike foul and fired in a jumper off the dribble to tie it at 66-66 with less than two minutes to go. Both teams traded turnovers in crunch time and Lottomatica got the ball back with 29 seconds remaining. Hawkins missed a shot and Sanchez fed Pietrus for a reverse left-handed layup right at the buzzer, enough for all Unicaja fans in the stands to explode with joy. It was his only basket in this game, but it was worth a huge step towards reaching the Top 16.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007