Partizan Belgrade took over second place in Group G of the Top 16 when it staved off visiting Unicaja 60-59 in a physical defensive battle before another sold-out Pionior Arena on Wednesday. Novica Velickovic hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left to break a tie and lift Partizan to a 2-1 record with its second consecutive victory. Unicaja's second straight loss dropped it to 1-2 and third place. Velickovic and Uros Tripkovic finished with 12 points each for the winners and triggered a pair of quick runs that made the difference. Velickovic had 5 points on a 16-0 Partizan run split evenly on either side of halftime. He was back to score 5 points and assist a triply by Tripkovic in a 7-0 takeover run early in the final quarter. And when Unicaja tied with 10 seconds left on Omar Cook's free throws, Velickovic did what was needed to seal the victory at the finish. Stephane Lasme added 9 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks for Partizan. In posting its lowest point total of the season, Unicaja got 12 points each from Cook and Jiri Welsch, while Marcus Haislip added 10 and 7 rebounds. However, Partizan's 45-34 edge on the backboards, including 15 offensive rebounds, proved significant in keeping the victory at home.
Milenko Tepic posted up inside for the game's first basket, while Unicaja took more than 2 minutes, until Haislip's put-back, to tie 2-2. Tepic answered with a baseline jumper, but Haislip rained a triple for Unicaja's first lead. Strahinja Milosevic restored Partizan's advantage inside and Lasme preserved it with a big block that Milosevic converted with a fastbreak layup at 8-5. Boniface Ndong came on and banked in his first attempt for Unicaja, but neither team could finish its shots against swarming defenses as the scoreboard stuck at 8-7. Ndong broke the drought and regained the lead for Unicaja with a baseline turnaround jumper. Jan Vesely took it back for Partizan with a tip-in, but Welsch changed the lead again with a fastbreak layup for a 10-11 score for Unicaja after one quarter.
Tripkovic dropped a running hook to put Partizan ahead again to start the second quarter. Joseph Gomis got a fastbreak layup-plus-free throw for Unicaja before feeding German Gabriel for another three-point play at 12-17. Cedomir Vitkovac made 2 of 2 free throws and Lasme a layup for Partizan, then Gabriel scored inside to keep Unicaja up 16-19. Welsch expanded on the lead with a big triple for the guests, whose defense and rebounding was limiting Partizan's chances in attack. Lasme finally got a basket back for Partizan, but 4-for-4 free-throw shooting by Robert Archibald kept Unicaja comfortably ahead, 18-26. Velickovic's first basket in 8 shots gave Partizan hope, then Tripkovic kept it going with his own 4-for-4 at the line, aided by a technical foul on Archibald. The Partizan crowd got back in the game for real as Petar Bozic swished a lane jumper to forge a 26-26 tie at the break.
Aleksander Rasic lifted the crowd to its feet by opening the second half with a triple. They were still jumping as Lasme added free throws, so when Velickovic fired from downtown, Pionir Arena exploded for a 34-26 scoreboard as Unicaja called timeout. Ndong ended Unicaja's slide with a dunk off an inbounds play, Cook responded next, with a long drive that came with a free throw, cutting the difference to 34-31. Berni Rodriguez kept Unicaja gaining ground with a pair of free throws before Archibald went to the line, too, and hit 1 of 2 for a 34-34 tie. A pair of quiet minutes ended with Haislip getting fouled on a deep three-point attempt and making all 3 free throws for a new Unicaja lead, 34-37. Bozic finally answered for Partizan with a layup, but Haislip matched it. Vesely dunked back an offensive rebound, reigniting the crowd at 38-39. Tepic got to the line next, making both to give Partizan the lead back. Welsch answered, also from the foul line, but layups by Zarko Rakocevic and Lasme ended the third quarter as it started, with Partizan in charge, 44-41.
Gomis scored inside to tighten the score at the start of the final quarter. The tension rose through a couple minutes of defensive stops and nervous misses until Tripkovic's triple from the wing rattled in to make it 47-43 for Partizan. Cook got free on the other end, however, and swished his triple, and when Tripkovic missed from the arc, Welsch scored on the fastbreak and was fouled for a three-point play that put the visitors suddenly in front, 47-49. Rasic's pick-and-roll pass to Lasme for a long-armed layup tied it up, 49-49, and recharged the crowd, but Gomis stole and fed Welsch alone to put Unicaja ahead again. Just when he was needed, Velickovic reappeared with a game-tying on a layup and dunked on the break to seize a new lead. When he passed out to Tripkovic for a sweet triple, Partizan had a 7-0 run and a 56-51 lead with under 3 minutes left. Neither team could score for 90 seconds before a steal by Carlos Jimenez sent Cook for a fastbreak layup. After a Partizan miss, Jimenez made 2 of 2 free throws with 32 seconds left to make it 56-55. Partizan looked to Velickovic, who drove down the lane for a lefthanded one-hander over Ndong and Haislip with 18 seconds left. Cook went back to the line, hitting 2 more free throws at 58-57. Unicaja fouled Lasme with 10 seconds left, but he made only 1 of 2. Partizan fouled Cook, who made both shots wiht 5 seconds left, for a 59-59 tie. The visitors then fouled Velickovic, however, and he hit the first of his 2 free throws, putting Partizan ahead. With the rebound of Velickovic's miss, Cook drove the length of the floor but his own shot fell short, letting a big victory stay in Belgrade.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009