Despite losing a head coach hours before tipoff, AXA FC Barcelona registered a first win in Top 16 Group G by edging Unicaja 64-62 at home on Thursday. Barcelona, under the orders of assistant coach Xavi Pascual after former boss Dusko Ivanovic was fired earlier Thursday, ties with CSKA Moscow for the first place in Group G at 1-0. Meanwhile, Unicaja and Lottomatica Roma are each 0-1. Jaka Lakovic led the winners with 14 points. Fran Vazquez added 10 while Pepe Sanchez dished 6 assists. Marcus Haislip had 15 points for Unicaja while Davor Kus added 11. Barcelona tried to get its big men involved in the opening minutes, as Vazquez and Mario Kasun took the hosts to get a 17-9 lead after 10 minutes. Unicaja adjusted its offense in the second quarter but Lakovic allowed Barcelona to boost its margin to 30-18 before Haislip and German Gabriel kept the guests within 40-31 at halftime. A 0-8 run that Haislip capped with a put-back basket brought Unicaja back in the game at 46-43 late in the third quarter. Barcelona improved its defense and found a go-to guy in Alex Acker, but a three-pointer by Berni Rodriguez and a mid-range jumper by Kus got Unicaja within 62-60 with 58.3 seconds to go. Free throws by Sanchez, Berni Rodriguez and Lakovic left Unicaja a shooter's chance at 64-61 with 10.5 seconds remaining. Kus drew a foul and missed his second free throw on purpose, but Boniface Ndong and Jiri Welsch missed consecutive shots in the game's final possession.
The game began with both teams a little visibly nervous, as an offensive foul by Lakovic and missed attempts preceded Denis Marconato's long jumper to open the scoring. N'Dong got Unicaja on the board before Vazquez scored twice, including a breakaway dunk to bring the score to 6-2. Haislip had a driving basket and made the additional free throw for a 6-5 scoreboard midway through a low-scoring quarter. An inspired Vazquez continued scoring with a jumper from the corner. Unicaja's offense ran out of its 24 seconds as Barcelona's defense stepped up their pressure, while at the other end Kasun scored back-to-back baskets, putting back his own miss and then dunking on the break for a 12-5 lead that forced a Unicaja timeout. Haislip nailed a long jumper over a Barcelona zone defense and then 2 free throws by Berni Rodriguez cut the lead difference before a Jordi Trias hook shot and a layup-plus-free throw by Roger Grimau left Barcelona in command, 17-9, after 10 minutes..
Unicaja started the second quarter brighter with Kus penetrating the key for a basket. Marconato continued a good shooting night for the Barcelona big men. Kus buried the first three-pointer before Trias and Daniel Santiago traded dunks, but Marconato kept scoring to make it 23-16. Another quick break ended with a Trias dunk that German Gabriel answered for Unicaja. Lakovic busted out with 2 free throws and a three-pointer from the top to bring Barcelona ahead by 12 points, 30-18. Haislip had a putback on one inbounds play before Gabriel took advantage of another to nail an uncontested three. Layups by Lakovic were answered with three-pointers by Unicaja, Bojan Popovic from the left corne and Haislip from the top to make it 34-29. After Vazquez and Gabriel traded points, Haislip was whistled for consecutive fouls on Lakovic, the second ruled to be unsportsmanlike, which forced Unicaja's leading scorer to the bench with 1:07 on the clock. Lakovic hit all 4 free throws as Barcelona arrived at the break ahead by 40-31.
The third quarter started sharply for Barcelona, with a breakway dunk by Grimau, as Sanchez gained his sixth assist of the night. Although Barcelona left Welsch wide open for a jumper, Grimau again beat the Unicaja defense for a layup and a 44-33 score. N'Dong made up for missed free throws with a jump shot, but Vazquez got the better of his defender for a dunk as the game seesawed with neither team gaining significant momentum. Even when Grimau was whistled for his fourth personal, Carlos Jimenez could not profit, missing both free throws. Welsch ending a barren spell for his team with 2 free throws. Gianluca Basile was on the wrong end of whistles for both personal and technical fouls, after which Haislip had a putback to bring his team within 46-43. A timeout allowed Pascual to draw up the play that would get Alex Acker his first 3 points of the night, although N'Dong got 2 of them back easily at the other end. Acker allowed the shot clock to tick down before converting a long two-pointer that Rodriguez matched before Basile finished the quarter with a buzzer-beating floater for a six-point margin, 53-47 with 10 minutes left to play.
Melvin Sanders scored a third-chance basket to get Unicaja going in the final quarter, but Basile quickly copied him. Haislip's three-point from the right wing again brought Unicaja within 3 points, at 55-52, but Acker replied with a running jumper and a turnaround for Barcelona. When Kus hit an unconstedted triple for the visitors, Sanchez punishind his old team with the same weapon, forcing Unicaja to call a time out with 4:05 left, down 62-55. Rodriguez got 3 points back with one shot as Unicaja edged ever closer. Barcelona had trouble scoring but relied on tough defense underneath the basket until another timeout was called with 95 seconds to play and the home team ahead 62-58. Kus kept a calm head in the waining moments, drilling a mid-range jumper to bring Unicaja within 62-60, as close as the guests had been all game long. After his head fake drew Kus into committing a foul, Sanches made 1 of 2 free throws with 39 seconds. Next, Rodriguez was fouled by Lakovic going to the basket and made 1 of 2 foul shots for a 63-61 score. Despite there being only two seconds of difference between the game and shot clocks, Unicaja allowed 16 seconds to tick off before Sanders fouled Lakovic, who downed 1 of 2 at the line with 10.5 seconds left to make it 64-61. Lakovic sent Kus to the line with 5.2 seconds left. Kus made the first and missed the second shot intentionally, giving Unicaja two opportunities to tie the game. Both missed, however, leaving Barcelona to walk off with a 64-62 victory to start the Top 16 right.
Thursday, February 14, 2008