Unicaja took a major step forward in Group G's playoff race by edging AXA FC Barcelona 62-61 in Malaga, Spain on a last-second layup by point guard Carlos Cabezas, his first points of the Top 16. Both teams now have 2-2 records and will be tied either in the middle of Group G or with the other two teams, CSKA and Lottomatica Roma, after they play Thursday. Davor Kus led the winners with 15 points, Daniel Santiago added 11 while Boniface Ndong barely missed a double-double with 9 points and 9 rebounds. But Cabezas, out all round until tonight with injury, simply stole the show. Jaka Lakovic had 16 points for Barcelona, although no other scorers reached double digits for the guests, who were outrebounded by 37-29 and did not go to the foul line in the opening 39 minutes. Barcelona led 11-15 after 10 minutes but Kus, German Gabriel and Santiago allowed Unicaja to regain the lead, 34-32, at halftime. A wild triple by Terrell Castle allowed Unicaja to keep a 48-47 edge at the end of the third quarter. As the game went down to the wire, Lakovic buried a triple, added a jumper and hit his team's first 4 free throw tries, all in the final minute, to give Barcelona a 60-61 lead with 12.5 seconds to go. Cabezas had other ideas, however, as he climbed off the bench after a timeout, took the ball the length of the court himself and hit a fallaway shot over two defenders to lift 10,000 fans at Martin Carpena Arena out of their seats with joy.
A steal converted into a jumper by Fran Vazquez and a back-door feed from Pepe Sanchez to Alex Acker got Barcelona a quick 0-4 advantage in the opening quarter. Not until Carlos Jimenez powered an inside shot through did Unicaja get on the scoreboard, after which physical defenses continued ruling for awhile. Marcus Haislip not only ended that trend with a driving bank shot, but was fouled and put Unicaja ahead 5-4 with the extra free throw. Santiago then fed Haislip with a surprise alley-oop dunk pass from the top. Barcelona remained stuck for almost 6 minutes without scoring until Gianluca Basile's reverse layup ended the drought while Sanchez stole and scored alone to put the guests back in front, 7-8. Jiri Welsch took Unicaja's lead back, but not for long. Ersan Ilyasova hit a cutting Basile for another layup and Sanchez stole again as Unicaja suffered its seventh turnover already. Lakovic came on the floor and buried a triple before ending the quarter with yet another back-door layup for an 11-15 Barcelona advantage.
The scoring trend changed quickly in the second quarter, which German Gabriel opened with a triple to which Ilyasova responded with 5 points in a row to keep Barcelona ahead 16-20. Gabriel then hooked over Ilyasova and then finished a 6-0 run that left Unicaja ahead 22-20. But not for long, Mario Kasun scored two baskets around a one-handed layup by Sanchez to put Barcelona back in front, 22-26. And back came Unicaja, with Kus burying a triple, Santiago making an up-and-under basket and then Kus connecting again from the arc to tie it up 30-30. Santiago got the go-ahead points at the line and put down a running one-hander off a loose ball before Lakovic finished the half banking in a layup over the big man to leave a 34-32 halftime scoreboard.
Roger Grimau buried a corner triple soon after the break, as Barcelona kept opting for a small lineup with Ilyasova at power forward. Ilyasova soon scored inside for a 34-37 Barcelona lead. Santiago sank a five-meter jumper but his team struggled to find him in the low post now. The guests entered the foul bonus very early, however, allowing Unicaja to adjust its game plan. Ilyasova had a huge block on Santiago while Basile added a fast break layup for a 36-39 Barcelona edge. Santiago made free throws, as Barcelona kept trying long shots without much success until Acker sank a five-meter jumper. Barcelona feld confident with its 2-3 zone defense but Unicaja called timeout and Barcelona switched back to man-to-man. Santiago made 1 of 2 free throws before Haislip took over with a put-back dunk to tie the game, 41-41. Basile scored in transition and Kasun added a reverse layup to quickly restore a 41-45 Barcelona lead. Kus followed free throws with a baseline jumper while Castle nailed an eight-meter bomb for a 48-47 Unicaja edge after 30 minutes.
Ndong hit free throws right at the start of the fourth quarter, as Barcelona struggled to score now. Jordi Trias stepped up with a one-handed dunk but Ndong slammed at the other end to keep Unicaja ahead, 52-49. Sanchez struck from downtown, as the game turned into a physical battle, with players diving for loose balls. Unicaja made the most out of it, as Ndong shined with a put-back dunk while Kus fired in a corner three-pointer for a 57-52 lead with 6 minutes to go. Barcelona called timeout and Lakovic fired in a three-pointer, as the guests did not allow any open shots now. Ndong made a free throw but Lakovic sank a six-meter shot to get Barcelona within 58-57 with 3 minutes to go. Berni Rodriguez did not miss from the foul line for a 60-57 Unicaja lead. Time was running out for Barcelona but Lakovic drew a foul to become the first Barcelona to shoot free throws with 29 seconds to go. Lakovic made both shots while Ilyasova had a big block at the other end. Welsch fouled Lakovic, who again hit both free throws for a 60-61 Barcelona edge with 12.5 seconds to go. Unicaja opted to isolate Cabezas, who took over with a drive and fallaway shot over Acker and Ilyasova that sealed the outcome with 0.2 seconds remaining. Barcelona called timeout but only had time for a tip-in that just didn't happen.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008