Caja Laboral defeated Unicaja 71-76
Caja Laboral won its opening Top 16 game in fashion at The Palacio de los Deportes Martin Carpena against Unicaja Malaga 71-76 to start Group E on the right foot. Marcelinho Huertas paced the road winners, who overcame a bad start to the second half, with 19 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, while Fernando San Emeterio added 14 points and Mirza Teletovic scored 13 and grabbed 8 rebounds. New signee Esteban Batista scored all of his 10 points in the second half for the visitors while grabbing 14 rebounds, and David Logan tallied 11 points. Unicaja enjoyed strong performances from Joel Freeland, with 16 points and 7 rebounds, and Carlos Jimenez and Roderick Blakney scored 13 each, while Saul Blanco added 11 and Jimenez corralled 7 boards. But the home team was not able to overcome a 36-41 disparity in the rebounding battle in head coach Chus Mateo’s first Euroleague game after replacing Aito Garcia Reneses earlier in the week. Caja Laboral will host Lietuvos Rytas next week, while Unicaja travels to play Panathinaikos in Athens.
The visiting side had an impressive start with good floor spacing that allowed them to hit three consecutive triples – one by San Emeterio and two by Logan - to power a 2-9 surge. Unicaja countered with determined penetrations from Berni Rodriguez and Freeland before a Jimenez triple and a Freeland hook shot tied the score at 9-9. As the hosts played zone defense and featured Freeland plenty on the low post in their offensive sets, Caja Laboral kept hitting from the perimeter, with Huertas joining the long-range party and then scoring off his own steal to keep the balance at 17-17. Batista anchored the visiting defense against Freeland and Robert Archibald in the paint, as Caja Laboral finished the opening quarter strong with a Brad Oleson three-pointer and a Pape Sow offensive rebound and free throw, entering the break on top at 19-21.
Unicaja tried to slow the tempo some to start the second period, but it was Huertas who first scored with a layup, and Teletovic finally found his long-range shooting touch after 4 misses to give the visitors their biggest lead to that point, 19-26. Unicaja hit back with a gorgeous alley-oop play between Rodriguez and Freeland, before Pau Ribas and Blakney traded three-pointers and the hosts engineered a 7-0 run to close in at 31-33. Unicaja tried to capitalize on close-range looks to the basket, scoring 16 points in the paint in the first half but, with Stanko Barac getting in the mix near the rim and Teletovic suddenly swishing consecutive triples, Caja Laboral mustered a 2-8 run to close the quarter in high fashion, with a pretty Huertas bank-in jumper and a promising 35-41 lead.
Unicaja seemed to regroup during halftime, and Jimenez and Rodriguez hit consecutive triples to start the third quarter and erase the six-point deficit. Another Jimenez bomb finally put the hosts ahead, and Blakney followed with another for a 49-44 advantage, as Caja Laboral struggled to find open looks and even committed a 24-second clock violation that forced a timeout from head coach Dusko Ivanovic. The pace quickened, even as the visitors tried to get Batista going on offense and the big man scored his first points on a nice hook shot and mid-range jumper to tie the game at 51-51. As Unicaja’s defense collapsed some after a San Emeterio layup, the guard was able to hit a corner three to put his team back in the lead, and Batista again executed a power move to extend it to 53-58, the final score of the quarter.
The hosts tried to feature Georgios Printezis in the low block to start the final period, but Batista continued to show off his muscle with a dunk, and Unicaja needed a triple from the corner by Saul Blanco to stay within distance at 58-62. Caja Laboral handed the playmaking duties to versatile Ribas for a stretch and the guard managed to spread the offense, though it was Batista once more producing the widest margin with a layup: 58-66. Blanco kept his team within two possessions by hitting from beyond the arc again with 5 minutes left, and Unicaja attacked the offensive boards, but San Emeterio countered with his own triple and Huertas swished another form deep range on a second-chance possession to pile on: 63-72 with 2:20 left. With Malaga pressed for buckets, it was again Blanco answering the call with a jump shot, his 8th point in the period, to stay within 65-72. But despite strong halfcourt defense, Unicaja was unable to close the glass on its own end and gave up consecutive offensive rebounds to Caja Laboral, who only had to hold on to the ball and dribble out the clock with a 67-72 score and 33 ticks left to seal the deal from the line. Rodriguez gave his team a chance with a triple to make it 71-74 with 20 seconds to go, but Huertas hit both ensuing free throws to ice it and postpone Mateo’s first win as a coach, while giving Caja Laboral a head start in Group E.
Thursday, January 20, 2011