Thanks to a hard-working, aggressive defense, Unicaja scored its biggest Group B victory of the year, upsetting Maccabi Tel Aviv, 87-75 in Malaga, Spain, on Thursday. The hosts used a 16-0 run late in the final period to complete the come-from-behind win. Unicaja improves to 2-6 and sent a message about its Top 16 hopes. Meanwhile, Maccabi, at 6-2, stays on top of Group B along with CSKA, who lost in Siena against Montepaschi. Louis Bullock led the winners with 23 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Walter Herrmann posted a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Moustapha Sonko had 15 points and 5 assists and Berni Rodriguez chipped in 12 on 4 of 7 three-pointers. Deon Thomas had 15 points off the bench for Maccabi, while Nikola Vujcic had 14 points and 8 rebounds and Sarunas Jasikevicius had 13 points for the guests. Proof of Unicaja's hustle was that the hosts outrebounded Maccabi by 43-27.
In the opening quarter, Maccabi's Anthony Parker and Jasikevicius gave the guests a 0-4 lead, but Unicaja's man-to-man defense was really physical and managed to slow Maccabi, and Herrmann ignited a 8-1 run that gave the hosts a three-point lead, 8-5. But Jasikevicius answered with a three-pointer and moments later added a mid-range jumper that made the score 8-12. Sonko, with a layup in penetration, and Baston, powerful with a dunk, exchanged baskets, but soon Unicaja took over. A basket by Larry Lewis, a fast break layup by Phillip and a four-point play by Bullock sparked a 15-4 run. After a Rodriguez triple and a dunk by Herrmann, Unicaja was quickly ahead by 9, 25-16. Maccabi recovered with a 0-5 run in the final minute of the quarter, which made it a four-point game, 25-21, after the first period.
Unicaja was on fire early in the second quarter, as it used a 13-4 opening run to open up a 38-25 advantage. Maccabi looked inside and Thomas, a former Unicaja player, stepped up and scored 11 points in just 3 minutes, while Vujcic added a layup to cut the hosts' lead to 5, 41-36. midway through this period. Unicaja got a break when Anthony Parker picked up his third foul, which limited Maccabi's offensive options. Meanwhile, Herrmann and Bullock combined for 7 points to help Unicaja keep its lead, 48-41. Bullock's 16 points in the first half were key for Unicaja, but Maccabi knotted the score at 49-49 at halftime thanks to 5 straight points form Tal Burstein plus baskets from Gur Shelef and Vujacic close to the buzzer.
As opposed to the first two quarters, the third quarter turned out to be a defensive battle. The pace was fast, but both teams struggled to score, as the only points through the first 4 minutes came on a three-pointer by Rodriguez and 2 free throws by Vujcic. Maccabi regained the lead, 53-56, after a driving basket by Jasikevicius and a wild one-handed dunk by Baston. Unicaja stayed aggressive in both ends of the court, but went scoreless for nearly 5 minutes. Another dunk by Baston on a no-look pass by Jasikevicius was followed by a put-back layup by Herrmann. The hosts used this basket as a wake-up call, but even when Carlos Cabezas drilled one from downtown and Herrmann added 2 foul shots, Maccabi stayed focused a kept a three-point lead, 59-62, entering the fourth.
Both defenses were aggressive and neither club scored fluently early in the fourth. Burstein, once again, broke Unicaja's 2-3 zone defense with a three-point shot from the left corner but Maccabi went scoreless for 2 minutes, while a free throw by German Gabriel and a layup by Herrmann brough Unicaja within 3, 62-65. Vujcic stepped up and added a three-point play on a two-handed slam. Herrmann drilled a three in the other end, but Derrick Sharp, used to taking and making big shots, answered from downtown, and Maccabi kept a six-point lead, 65-71, midway through the final quarter. Bullock finally showed up to drill a three-meter jumper, his first points in the second half. Soon after that, Unicaja managed to turn things around, as they went on a game-breaking 16-0 run. Unicaja's defense excelled, as Maccabi could not find any answers. Meanwhile, Sonko caught fire, scoring 9 points, while Bullock added a three-pointer and another fast break basket to extend the local lead to 83-73, with less than 2 minutes to go. Unicaja earned its second win this season and its fans celebrated a unexpected yet well-deserved victory.
Thursday, January 8, 2004