| Unicaja overcame the strong effort of a would-be survivor to finally outlast Air Avellino 72-68 in Malaga, Spain on Thursday and by so doing advance to the Top 16 from Group A. Unicaja not only raised itself into the next round with a 6-2 record, but did the same for Cibona (6-2) and Maccabi Electra (5-3), by dropping Avellino to 2-6 with just two regular season games remaining. The visitors certainly tried, though, shooting the lights out in the third quarter and taking their last lead with under 5 minutes left, when Unicaja ratcheted up its defense to decide the matter. Marcus Haislip led the winners with 17 points, including 4 in a row late that broke Avellino's back. Carlos Cabezas shined with 15 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds in just 18 minutes for the winners. Robert Archibald added 13 points and Thomas Kelati 10, including 2 of just 3 triples all game for the hosts. Avellino made three times as many from downtown, with Chris Warren nailing a pair on his way to 16 points while Drake Diener hit 4 of 6 from deep for 15. Despite the huge spirit it showed, Avellino's first Euroleague season ended in elimination from the Top 16.
Warren took the baseline to score the game's first basket, and Tamar Slay banked in another falling down as Avellino went up 0-4. Unicaja went to the tandem of Omar Cook and Archibald for the latter's dunk, free throws and layup to move ahead 6-4 on the board. Eric Williams banged and hooked to tie 6-6 before Kelati put Unicaja up again with free throws. Warren ruled the baseline for a pair of backdoor layups sandwiched around a hook by Archibald. Haislip gave the hosts a 12-10 advantage in close, then after a lull, Carlos Jimenez added an easy layup to it. Jiri Welsch had the next open layup at 16-10 but Williams reversed to restart Avellino's offense. Boniface Ndong answered for Unicaja with a baseline turnaround, but Marko Tusek got a second-chance basket to match. Cabezas hit Unicaja's next layup before Tusek beat the buzzer with a triple to cut the hosts' lead to 20-17 after 10 minutes.
Cabezas came out shooting in the second quarter with a jumper and a post-up runner as Unicaja's lead stretched to 24-19. His fastbreak assist to Joseph Gomis kept the run going, but only until Warren got free on the arc and buried a triple at 26-22. Although Paul Shirley rejected his next try at the rim, Warren went deep again, and soon had a three-point partner in Diener, whose triple had the game tied up again, 28-28. A pair of huge blocks by Ndong prevented Avellino from taking the lead, and Haislip took advantage by hitting 3 of 4 free throws to make it 31-28. Avellino's close misses, no doubt influenced by Ndong's presence, continued until Slay shot alone from downtown for another tie, 31-31. After both teams missed chances, Crosariol finally but Avellino up with a reverse, but Haislip bettered him dunking an alley-oop backwards and finishing a fastbreak on the buzzer put Unicaja back up, 35-33, at halftime.
Almost 2 quiet minutes to start the second half ended when Haislip slammed home a fastbreak dunk, although Williams did the same within seconds for Avellino. The defenses continued dominating until Diener boomed not just one triple, to tie at 38-38, but a minute later another to boost the visitors into the lead and ignite his teammates. Nikola Radulovic was soon copying him from the arc to make it 40-44, and even after Kelati matched from downtown - Unicaja's first three-pointer to go through all night - Warren followed with a dunk. Archibald got to the line for free throws as Unicaja stayed in its defensive zone but could not rebound and saw Warren drive for a reverse at 45-48. Moments later, it was Warren measuring from deep and connecting for a 45-51 Avellino advantage that silenced the Malaga crowd. Cabezas ended Unicaja's slide with a driving layup before he and Antonio Porta exchanged free throws for a 49-53 scoreboard after 30 minutes.
Unicaja answered with veteran leaders Carlos Jimenez, who hit a layup, and Berni Rodriguez, who stole and hit free throws for a 53-53 tie right away int he final quarter. After a pair of foul shots by Williams, Jimenez also did the honor of taking back the lead for Unicaja, 56-55, with a smooth triple from the wing. Tusek's flying put-back got Avellino the lead again, but Gomis scored falling down to take it back for Unicaja. Archibald got back to the line by drawing the fourth foul on Williams and made both foul shots. Diener got fouled shooting a triple, however, hand made 3 of 3 for a new tie, 60-60, with less than 5 minutes left. Warren made a huge steal then, and his fastbreak layup was tipped in by Slay, putting Avellino up, but the next shot was Kelati's second triple, making it 63-62 Unicaja. After an Avellino timeout, Kelati cut and scored on a pass by Archibald, but Crosariol got Avelino within 65-64. Cabezas sent a running alley-oop pass to Haislip, who then got to the foul line, making both for a 69-64 edge with 1:25 to play. Unicaja risked a surprise press then, but ended up fouling, and Travis Best made both his tries at the line. A big offensive rebound by Cabezas led to Jimenez hitting 1 of 2 free throws, and after Avellino missed, Cook added 2 more at the line to settle the game and the question of Top 16 qualifiers from Group A.
Thursday, December 18, 2008