Unicaja took a crucial step towards reaching the Quarterfinal Playoffs in Group G by edging Benetton 76-79 in Treviso, Italy, on Thursday night. Unicaja joins Dynamo Moscow atop the Group G standings, each with a 3-1 record. Both teams face each other in Malaga, Spain, in a head-to-head clash to win this Top 16 group. Dynamo will be the Group G champion with a win, while Unicaja will clinch first place if it wins by at least 7 points. Meanwhile, Benetton dropped to 2-2 and needs to win its two remaining games to keep its hopes alive. Daniel Santiago led the winners with 23 points on 9-of-12 two-pointers. He added 8 rebounds and 5 blocked shots as he thoroughly dominated the paint. Jiri Welsch finished with 21 points, while Carlos Cabezas had 11 for Unicaja. Marcus Goree led Benetton with 20 points and Preston Shumpert posted17. Iñaki De Miguel scored 5 during a 1-11 run that saw Unicaja take a 49-59 lead late in the third quarter. However three-pointers by Marco Mordente, Shumpert, Goree and Bryant Smith against Unicaja's zone defense carried the hosts back for a 71-68 lead with less than 4 minutes to go. It all came down to the final minute, as Shumpert hit a triple to tie it at 76-76 with 48 seconds to go. But free throws by Welsch, Cabezas and Berni Rodrigiez allowed Unicaja to get a historical win down the stretch.
Goree took the initiative, first drawing a foul off Santiago for the first point of the game. Santiago returned the favor by scoring with a hook, 1-2. Shumpert drilled the game's first three, but Cabezas and Welsch had two of their own in quick succession to put Unicaja up 4-10. Angelo Gigli and Goree’s bombs responded to the inside dominance of the visitors, good for a 12-14 score. Gigli’s jumper was then followed by a two-handed Goree jam to ignit the crowd. However Santiago kept causing damage inside and tied it at 18, before going back to the foul line twice to take an 18-21 edge. Spencer Nelson scored off a nice dish by Mordente to bring Treviso within 1 after 10 minutes.
Both teams started off cold in the second quarter, but Marcus Faison eventually put an end to a two-minute scoring drought. Gigli, still hot, answered to stay close as Benetton coach David Blatt took a timeout. Nelson's slam followed by a Gigli basket gave Benetton a 28-23 advantage midway through the period. Santiago found no match as he seemed to score at will and bring Unicaja right back. Terrell Lyday and Kostas Vasileiadis exchanged baskets before Welsch connected from beyond the arc and scored underneath to regain the lead for the visitors, 32-35, prompting Blatt to call for a timeout so his team could regroup. Nikos Zizis completed a three-point play with 7 seconds to go, fixing the half time score at 37-37.
Unicaja started the second half in the worst manner possible as Santiago picked up two quick fouls. Benetton didn’t do any better, losing Lyday with a strained ankle. The lead switched from side to side with Goree and the unstoppable Santiago, who remained on the court with three fouls, doing most of the damage. Carlos Jimenez hit a buzzer-beater from downtown and Welsch added to his tally to help Unicaja go up 42-48. Shumpert’s 4 points and assist to Goree tied it again, causing Unicaja coach Sergio Scariolo to call his men for a chat. It turned out to be effective as his team regained a 7-point lead thanks to a three-point play by De Miguel and a penetration move by Cabezas. Welsch and Mordente exchanged baskets before Zizis reduced the gap to -7 for the hosts entering the decisive quarter.
Mordente tried to ignite a come back with a three, but De Miguel answered with a reverse layup to make it 56-62. Shumpert hit as well from beyond the arc to cut the gap to 3. Matteo Soragna eventually entered the show with a jumper. Goree answered Santiago and when Zizis went through the traffic it was all square at 65 with 5 minutes on the clock. Welsch did it again to silence the crowd, only for Goree to beat the 24-second clock from 8 meters. Bryant Smith hit from downtown as well to force a Unicaja timeout at 71-68. Cabezas made an unbelievable fallback three to go in front 71-72 with 2:15 to play. After a Benetton timeout, Santiago’s hook was met by a dunk from Goree. Cabezas kept the pace to beat the shot-clock again. However, Shumpert used a Goree feed to find the three to tie it at 76-76 with 45 seconds left. Welsh drew the foul and netted only one. But Shumpert misfired and forced the home team to commit a foul. Cabezas went to the line and missed the first, but scored the second for a 2-point lead with 19 seconds on the clock. After a Benetton timeout, Zisis lost the ball. Berni Rodriguez was fouled and made one from the foul line to get a 3-point advantage. Unicaja cleverly sent the home team to the line. However, Goree had the rebound and Zisis a chance to tie it, but it wasn’t to be for the Italian champions. Unicaja went away with a crucial away win to enhance its hopes of a quarterfinal qualification.
Thursday, March 8, 2007