With a defense that did not let up the whole night, visiting Partizan Belgrade handcuffed Unicaja with its first loss of the season, 64-72, to deny the hosts an early qualification to the Top 16. Partizan boosted its record to 3-3 in the middle of the group, while Unicaja dropped to 5-1 and could not become the first team to clinch the Top 16 before its fans in Malaga, Spain. Partizan did a masterful job taking advantage of two missing Unicaja big men, Robert Archibald and Carlos Jimenez, who were out with flu. Partizan ruled in rebounds with an overall advantage of 31-47 that was even wider, 7-20, on the offensive glass. With extra possessions and great defense, the visitors seized early leads that reached double digits in the second half, when Partizan shut the door again and again on Unicaja comeback attempts. Dusan Kecman led the winners with a double-double of 16 points and 10 rebounds. Aleks Maric followed with 12 and 8, respectively, while Bo McCalebb had 10 points and 5 assists for Partizan. Unicaja got 12 points from Joel Freeland, 11 from Larry Lewis and 10 from Berni Rodriguez, but did not grab a lead after 4-3 at the very start of the game.
Kecman opened the scoring with a triple from the top for the guests, which Lewis answered for Unicaja with a jumper just inside the three-point line. Lewis posted up for a turnaround, but the next three times down the floor, Partizan found layups from Kecman, McCalebb and Maric, who slammed, to bolt ahead suddenly, 4-10. Unicaja struggled against Partizan's zone until Freeland put back a miss. A timeout didn't help Unicaja as its failed fastbreak led to Strahinja Milosevic turning Partizan's into a reverse-plus-free throw for a 6-14 lead. Unicaja head coach Aito Garcia Reneses kept going to his bench now, getting a basket from Guillem Rubio, but a press didn't stop Lawrence Roberts and Milosevic from building Partizan's advantage to 10-18. Saul Blanco calmed his team and the Malaga fans with a clean triple from the wing, and soon, after Cesar Lima's free throws, Rodriguez was tying from downtown, 18-18. Partizan had the last word, however, with a layup by Branislav Djekic and a free throw from Maric for an 18-21 lead after 10 minutes.
Partizan's defense had Unicaja stymied to start the second quarter, allowing only a layup by Freeland through more than 5 minutes. Meanwhile, McCalebb hit free throws and Partizan took a lot of offensive rebounds. When the visitors found Maric again for pair of his monster slams, the guests again had a big lead, 20-27. After a timeout, it was a deep sub, 2.22-meter Nedzad Sinanovic, who unstuck the Unicaja offense with a putback. Soon, Taquan Dean was pumping in a three-pointer at 25-27. As Unicaja took a page out of Partizan's defensive book by playing zone, shots were not falling for either team. The visitors, however, were scooping up rebounds, and put-backs by Roberts and Kecman made it 25-32. Jiri Welsch cut into that with a three-pointer, but despite its own 1-for-11 accuracy from the three-point line until then, Partizan still held a 29-32 lead at the half.
Both teams kept struggling to score after the break until Jan Vesely busted out of the pack and dunked on a fastbreak. Lima got to the line and Omar Cook scored a quick layup for Unicaja, but Kecman and Milosevic had an easier time getting to the basket and Partizan's lead was back to 7 points, 31-38. Unicaja managed to get 3 points at the line before Freeland sank a turnaround jumper over 2.25-meter Slavko Vranes to make it 36-38. Partizan not only resisted, but rebuilt its lead as Aleksandar Rasic buried a three-pointer, Kecman hit a layup and Maric a free throw at 38-44. Next, it was Maric dishing to Kecman who flew untouched to the basket for a drop-in and a 39-46 advantage. Now, Unicaja needed a timeout, but out of it, Petar Bozic got free in the corner, blasted a triple, and with it gave Partizan its first double-digit lead, 39-49. Unicaja had to react, and did, with Freeland foul shots and a spectacular double-pump triple by Welsch that ended the quarter at 44-49 in Partizan's favor.
McCalebb danced through Unicaja's zone for the first basket of the fourth quarter, but Cook struck back instantly for the hosts. When McCalebb then rattled in a three-pointer from the corner, however, Partizan's lead was up to 46-54. Lima got a basket back on a turnaround jump-hook. Unicaja had an active zone, but it couldn't prevent Partizan's 14th offensive rebound so far, a flying dunk by Vesely. Next, getting loose in the corner again was Bozic, and he did not miss, giving Partizan a new high lead of 11 points, 48-59, with just under 6 minutes to play. Unicaja turned to Lewis for a big triple then, but Vranes corralled yet another offensive rebound and dunked. Then Maric took a handoff and dunked, too, before Roberts put back a miss to make it 53-65. The air was slowly going out of Unicaja's undefeated record, but Rodriguez tried to fight back with a corner triple. Freeland dropped a short jumper too, but when Kecman stepped back for another three-pointer it was 58-69 with 2:09 left and Partizan was going back to Belgrade as the first team to stop Unicaja.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009