Unicaja is mathematically into the Top 16 by thrashing Armani Jeans Milano 89-70 in Malaga, Spain on Wednesday night. Unicaja improved to 8-2 and made it to the next round, as it has a 2-0 record against Cibona. Meanwhile, Milano dropped to 2-8 and needs a major turnaround to stay alive in the competition. Berni Rodriguez led the winners with 16 points. Jiri Welsch added 14 and 5 assists, Carlos Cabezas had 12 points and 7 assists while German Gabriel scored 10 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and dished 5 assists for Unicaja. Dusan Vukcevic had 19 points for Milano, Ansu Sesay added 16 and 8 rebounds while Travis Watson got 11 points for the guests, who teen sensation Danilo Gallinari went scoreless tonight. Milano stayed in the game in the first half, as Sesay, Vukcevic and Pietro Aradori kept the guests within 44-37 at halftime. It all changed in the third quarter, however, as Welsch, Rodriguez and Cabezas fueled a game-breaking 13-0 run that put Unicaja ahead for good, 60-41. Milano did not recover, as Unicaja managed to keep a double-digit lead all the way until the final buzzer.
Welsch got Unicaja going with a driving basket and then bettered Melvin Booker's layup with a triple for a 5-2 Unicaja lead. Watson showed his power with a reverse layup that Vukcevic followed with a mid-range jumper to give Milano its first lead, 5-6. Vukcevic capped a 0-7 Milano run with a corner triple but Cabezas answered from downtown to keep Unicaja close, 8-9. Unicaja stayed aggressive in defense due to its athletic frontcourt, featuring Marcus Haislip and Boniface Ndong. Haislip made free throws that Watson matched with a tip-in. Haislip quickly answered with an easy basket while Ndong added an uncontested layup to restore a 14-13 Unicaja lead. Sesay buried his trademark fallaway jumper over Haislip but a layup by Cabezas provided another lead change, 16-15. Rodriguez found space for an open three-pointer that made Milano call timeout at 19-15. Aradori grabbed an airball and put it in but he fouled on Gabriel, allowing him to give the hosts a 21-17 edge. Three-pointers by Aradori and Haislip fixed the score at 24-20 at the end of an up-tempo first quarter.
Milano adjusted its defense early in the second quarter while Aradori scored again for a 24-22 deficit. Rodriguez fired in his second three-pointer but a left-handed jump hook by Casey Shaw got Milano within 27-24. Bojan Popovic found his first points on a driving layup and soon added a fast break basket off a midcourt steal by a very active Welsch. Milano struggled to score now until Watson took over with a six-meter jumper. Unicaja kept following its game plan, with strong defense and a patient offense trying to get Rodriguez and Welsch involved. Even with that, a driving layup by Booker brought Milano within 31-28. Gabriel buried a wide open three-pointer but Watson provided a highlight for a two-handed dunk. Gabriel collected a steal and fed Welsch for a fast break basket, good for a 37-30 Unicaja margin. Milano called timeout and came back strong, as Booker hit free throws that Vukcevic followed with a corner triple. Paulo Prestes and Welsch made free throws to give Unicaja some fresh air at 41-35. Aradori scored again but a big triple by Welsch boosted the hosts' lead to 44-37 at halftime.
Rodriguez beat the shot clock with his third three-pointer to boost Unicaja's lead to double digits for the first time, 47-37, right after the break. Milano did not give up, however, as Vukcevic made free throws while Booker sank a mid-range jumper to get the guests within 47-41. Welsch provided a highlight with an electric three-point play and than fed Ndong for a wild dunk, good for a 52-41 Unicaja margin. Ndong had a huge block on Watson that allowed Haislip to score in the other end. Milano kept struggling to score while Rodriguez fed Cabezas for an easy layup that made coach Attilio Caja call timeout at 56-41. Cabezas scored again while Ndong found Rodriguez for an off-balanced layup, good for a 60-41 Unicaja lead after a game-breaking 13-0 run. Milano had been scoreless for 3 minutes until Sesay hit a close jumper. The guests switched to zone defense while Vukcevic and Sesay hit jumpers, one from each corner, to give Milano some hope at 62-48. By the time Sesay scored again, Milano was within 62-50. Cabezas and a red hot Sesay traded triples off a Unicaja timeout. Rodriguez sank another three-pointer to keep Unicaja way ahead, 68-54, after 30 minutes.
Melvin Sanders found his first Euroleague points this season with a three-pointer early in the fourth quarter. He soon added another basket for a 73-54 Milano margin. Vukcevic and Watson tried to change things for Milano, but Unicaja kept shining in defense, not allowing the guests to get back in the game. Milano switched back to zone defensebut Gabriel immediately punished it with a triple from the left wing that made it a 20-point game, 79-59. The outcome was already clear and coach Sergio Scariolo opted to sit out its starting five. Milano called timeout and Vukcevic made free throws, as Unicaja tried to please its 8,400 fans at Martin Carpena arena with some more showtime, allowing Milano to at least trade baskets now. Welsch was awarded with a big ovation, as everything was said and done up to that point. Unicaja will carry on fighting to reach high in Group B while Milano will now try to advance to the Top 16 by becoming the best sixth-ranked team in the competition.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008