Unicaja won its eighth Group C game in a row in more dominant fashion than ever with a 70-82 road win over Montepaschi Siena on Thursday. Unicaja broke open a game that was tied at halftime by outscoring Montepaschi 12-30 in the third quarter as everyone on court for the visitors got a piece of the action. The victory lifted Unicaja's record to 9-2 and, with three regular season games to go, left it in a battle for first place in Group C with Panathinaikos. Montepaschi sank to 3-8 but remains tied for fifth place with Ulker and Pau-Orthez. Daniel Santiago ruled inside for Unicaja with 20 points, while Berni Rodriguez came off the bench to strike from outside for 15. Marcus Brown had 14 more points for the winners and Jorge Garbajosa 13. For Montepaschi, Andrea Pecile led all scorers with 24 points while Jamel Thomas had 13 and Minaugas Zukauskas 11.
Defenses rules early but Kaukenas got Montepaschi going with a fastbreak jumper before Santiago and Garbajosa put Unicaja ahead with shots in the paint. New Montepaschi starter Jamel Tomas hit a reverse layup to make it 4-4. Stephane Risacher took over with a pair of baskets to which Santiago added a free throw for the visitors, while Andrea Pecile drove in his first points for Montepaschi. Santiago with a hook and Risacher turnaround shot extended Unicaja's run to 4-9 and its lead to 8-13 while Pecile made free throws and Benjamin Eze a tip-in for the guests. Brown's layup and the game's first triple boosted Unicaja up again to 14-21, but Pecile hit from the arc in response to cut the difference to 17-22 after 10 minutes.
Mindaugas Zukauskas fired Montepaschi closer with a triple to open the second quarter. Santiago and Brown kept Unicaja in front for a couple more minutes, but Pecile kept hot with a shot from downtown and a layup and then Zukauskas made a three-point drive-and-free throw to put the hosts in front, 28-27. After Carlos Cabezas returned the lead to Unicaja, points came hard and mostly in the paint as Chiacig got his first basket and free throws while Santiago and Florent Pietrus dunked. Cabezas drove untouched now to put Unicaja up 32-35, but Zukauskas swished a corner three-pointer to tie. So when a reverse by Kaukenas put the hosts in front, Unicaja's Brown was ready with the half's final basket, off an inbound play, to make it 37-37
Unicaja took over first with defense after halftime, holding Montepaschi to a single basket over 4 minutes while Garbajosa sparked a 2-11 run with a triple and 2 free throws. When Thomas broke the hosts’ slide, Berni Rodriguez stepped up with 5 straight points to add to Unicaja's advantage, which now reached into double-digits, at 41-53. Only Thomas was finding any shots for Montepaschi, while Pepe Sanchez added jumper and Rodriguez another triple for the guests. The story, however, was Unicaja's defense swarming toward any Montepaschi player trying to score. As the hosts couldn't buy a basket, Garbajosa and Santiago had all the points in a 2-9 run that left Unicaja holding a 49-67 lead after 30 minutes.
With its defense still making every Montepaschi pass difficult, Unicaja was content to exchange baskets at the start of the fourth quarter. Shaun Stonerook tried to spark the hosts with a triple that Marcelo Nicola would repeat a minute later, but in between Rodriguez was keeping Unicaja well in front. Even when Pecile and Zukauskas cut the difference to single digits, 66-75, with a minute left, Rodriguez responded with his third triple, from the corner, as Unicaja once again confirmed its new status as a major contender with its eighth straight victory in Group C.
Thursday, January 19, 2006