In a thriller to open Group B for both teams, Unicaja rallied from 8 points behind in the fourth quarter to nail down a 64-72 road win over Partizan and its stunned supporters in Belgrade on Thursday. With just over 6 minutes left to play, Partizan led 59-51, preserving much of the double-digit advantages it enjoyed during the game. In the next couple minutes, however, Unicaja put on a full-court press and looked to a player making his Euroleague debut to push it over the top. Big man Joel Freeland certainly delivered, too, scoring 13 of his game-high 19 points in what was left of the game to send Unicaja home to Spain with an important road win. Another newcomer to the team, Georgios Printezis, followed with 16 points on perfect 8-for-8 two-point shooting for the winners. Unicaja's press was the other star, forcing Partizan into 24 turnovers that explained the loss despite its better shooting percentages and rebounding numbers. Point guard Bo McCalebb, signed just a few days before the game, led Partizan with 15 points and dished 5 assists. Branislav Dekic was the only other Partizan player to score in double digits, with 10 points. Partizan had led from shortly after tipoff until a triple by Freeland broke the last tie with just under 4 minutes left in the game. All told, Unicaja outscored Partizan 5-21 over the game's last 6 minutes.
Partizan struck first, on a two-handed power slam by Aleks Maric, before Printezis answered for Unicaja with a spin move capped by a nice flip-in. After McCalebb showed his speed getting to the rim for a layup, Printezis scored back-to-back buckets in the paint to put Unicaja ahead 4-6. Jan Vesely responded by drilling a three-pointer to reclaim the lead for Partizan and then added to it with a flying dunk off a feed by McCalebb. Printezis was Unicaja's choice again, as he raced on the break to slam over Vesely, who responded with a tough layup at 11-8. Saul Blanco got the first points for a Unicaja player other than Printezis with free throws, but McCalebb's strong penetration move pushed the Partizan lead to 15-10. Unicaja came out of a timeout with some full court pressure and forced a turnover that Archibald converted into free throws. Petar Bozic broke the next Unicaja press with a three-pointer, however, as Partizan, too, turned up the defensive intensity. Aleksandar Rasic nailed a triple to give Partizan it's biggest lead yet, 21-13. Berni Rodriguez hit 2 free throws and Unicaja's press continued to pay dividends as a pair of Partizan turnovers let Welsch hit a jumper that cut the difference to 25-19 after 10 minutes.
Bozic nailed a deep three-pointer to start the second quarter that got the crowd roaring. Cook immediately found a streaking Joel Freeland for a dunk, but McCalebb hit a triple to give Partizan a 10-point lead at 31-21. Freeland swished a baseline jumper and after a timeout Blanco blasted from long-range to spark life into Unicaja. But Dekic and Vesely nailed consecutive three-pointers to push the lead back to 37-28 and force Unicaja to talk it over. Out of the timeout, McCalebb shook Pooh Jeter for a layup at 39-28. Jeter answered with a basket, but after Vesely hit a baseline jumper. Unicaja went cold, missing open shots. Luckily for the visitors, Partizan also lost its offensive edge and could not extend its lead beyond 41-30. Jeter finally broke the drought for Unicaja with a long jumper, the last points as the half ended 41-32 in Partizan's favor.
Both teams had difficulties finding the bottom of the net after the break until McCalebb got to the basket for a layup. The game stayed physical, with neither team allowing easy baskets. Unicaja turned up its defense as Printezis drew a charge on Vesely and Partizan giving up the ball against the pressure. Printezis got back on the scoreboard with another basket in the lane to cut the lead to 45-36, but Milosevic's baseline layup restored a double-digit advantage. Freeland made a layup off an assist by Jiri Welsch and Printezis scored in the lane again as Unicaja inched back to within 47-40. After an exchange of free throws, Jeter hit 1 of 2 and Carlos Jimenez then hit a three-pointer from the corner at 49-46. Dusan Kecman answered with triple of his own for Partizan before a tough bank shot by Archibald let Unicaja narrow the gap to 52-49 after 30 minutes.
Maric downed a baby hook to open the fourth-quarter scoring. Bozic followed 2 free throws by Rasic with a big triple to push the Partizan lead back to 59-51. Unicaja resorted to its press again at that point, and not only did not let the game get away, but embarked on a takeover run fueled by an unstoppable Freeland. Printezis started the comeback by finding Freeland for a layup. Welsch added a free throw and a fastbreak slam off a great steal at halfcourt. Freeland hit a jumper, then Blanco went 1-for-2 from the line to tie the game, 59-59, Unicaja's first sniff of the lead since the game's opening minutes. Then, after another defensive stop, Freeland was left completely wide open at the top of key completed the comeback by calmly dropping a triple at 59-62 with less than 4 minutes left. McCalebb finally broke 0-11 Unicaja the run with a layup, but Freeland swished a hook shot and Printezis finished a fastbreak off yet another steal produced by the press to put Unicaja ahead 61-66. Freeland, totally on fire, hit yet again, this time a long jumper by himself. Fittingly, Freeland also scored the 2 free throws to put the finishing touch on a great fourth quarter and Unicaja's season-opening victory in his Euroleague debut.
Thursday, October 22, 2009