Unicaja kept open its options to reach the Top 16 from Group C by beating direct rival Opel Skyliners 82-67 at home in Malaga, Spain on Tuesday night. Unicaja improves to 5-7 in the Group C standings and will at least be tied for the fifth and last automatic Top 16 place with two games left in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Skyliners dropped to 4-8 and will likely need to win both of its remaining games to have a chance at advancing. Fran Vazquez led the winners with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 5 dunks, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Stephane Risacher added 17 points on 5-for-7 shooting. He hit 4 three-pointers among his 15 points in the second period, when Unicaja took control for good. Chris Williams led the Opel Skyliners with 18 points. Spyros Panteliadis added 16 points, Hazan Ozkan 13 and Mlajden Sljivancanin 10 for the guests.
Unicaja played with long posessions in the early going, but the hosts failed to find easy options on offense against the Skyliners zone defense. Williams fed Alex King for a layup to give while Spyros Pantelaidis scored around the basket to give the Skyliners a 2-4 lead after 4 minutes. Unicaja continued struggling to score, while Kruel added another easy basket for a 2-6 margin. Vazquez woke the hosts up with back-to-back power dunks, but Williams followed a put-back layup with free throws to make keep the Skyliners in charge at 7-10. Vazquez was now on fire, however, as his five-meter jumper ignited a 6-0 run that he capped with his third dunk for a 13-10 Unicaja lead. Panteliadis tried to change things with a fast break layup, but a stop-and-pop jumper by Bremer gave the hosts a 15-12 margin after 10 minutes.
Ozkan and Risacher exchanged three-pointers to start a high-scoring second quarter. Risacher got red hot as he drilled another running shot from the arc and then punished the Skyliners 2-3 zone defense with his third triple in as many minutes. Vazquez followed with a dunk to cap a 10-2 run as the Skyliners called timeout down 28-19. Still the guests couldn't stop Risacher, who came out and drilled his fourth three-pointer of the quarter before Florent Pietrus copied him from downtown to boost Unicaja's lead to double digits, 34-22. The hosts were now excelling in both ends of the court, as Jesus Lazaro added back-to-back layups to the lead. Ozkan tried to get his team back into the game with 2 unaswered triples that brought the Skyliners within 38-28. But Risacher and Bremer answered with 5 quick points and Zan Tabak made back-to-back jump hooks for a 15-point margin, 47-32, at halftime, by which time Unicaja had outrebounded Opel 19-8.
The Skyliners came back after the break with great intensity, making Unicaja go scoreless for more than 3 minutes. Meanwhile, Panteliadis scored in penetration and added a put-back layup for a 47-36 scoreboard. Garbajosa stepped up with his first basket, but the scoring pace was low, as both teams struggled against intense defenses. Unicaja tried to solve its offensive problems with a timeout and Vazquez became the hosts' go-to guy again. He made a short jumper and followed it with free throws and an outstanding dunk to keep his team in charge at 55-41. Williams stepped up with a layup off a Skyliners timeout and Panteliadis fired in a three-pointer from the top of the key, but Walter Herrmann matched that at the other end to help Unicaja keep a safe cushion, 60-48, entering the fourth.
Unicaja tried to break the game early in the final period. Carlos Cabezas drilled a three-pointer, Herrmann copied that from the left corner and Pietrus provided some showtime with a two-handed reverse dunk to cap an 8-1 run for the biggest lead yet, 68-49. The Skyliners gave some signs of life, as Williams stepped up with a tough basket and Mlajden Sljivancanin added a fastbreak layup. But after a timeout, Unicaja got a triple from Berni Rodriguez and the Skyliners had even more troubles rebounding on defense. Rodriguez took over with his second triple and Cabezas added free throws for a 76-60 Unicaja lead with 4 minutes to go. Opel needed a miracle now, and even when Sljivancanin fired in a catch-and-shoot three and Williams dunked, it was all too little, too late. Unicaja not only won the game, but overcame its six-point loss in Frankfurt, a key advantage if these teams share in a two- or three-way tie at the end of the regular season.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005