Unics Kazan took the high road to its first ULEB Cup semifinal when it outlasted Montepaschi 96-97 in Siena, Italy on Tuesday to sweep their two-game quarterfinal series. Unics advances to play Real Madrid in the semifinals. Unics hosts the first game in Kazan, Russia on March 13 and the rematch is in the Spanish capital a week later, March 20. Unics had won the first quarterfinal game against Montepaschi at home by 30 points, so there was little suspense in Tuesday's outcome. Still, pride motivated Unics to rally past the Italian champions in the final minute to sweep their series. Sergei Chikalkin paced five double-figure scorers for Unics with 21 points, hitting 6 of his 9 three-point tries. Darjus Lavrinovic added 19 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks, while brother Ksistof had 13, 8 and 1, respectively. Jarod Stevenson chipped in 14 points and Saulius Stombergas 13 for Unics. Joseph Forte fired in 30 points for Montepaschi while Rimantas Kaukenas had 1, Romain Sato 18 and Terrell McIntyre 17. Unics overcame a 30-15 deficit after one quarter to slowly get back in the game and take back the lead during an 0-12 blast in the middle of the third quarter. Unics went up by as many as 10 points but Montepaschi fought back to regain the lead midway through the fourth and was up still 96-93 on Forte's last jumper, early into the final minute. Ksistof Lavrinovic got Unics closer with free throws before Petr Samoylenko hit a layup that proved to be the game-winner.
The two teams measured each other with back-and-forth baskets until it was tied 9-9 after 4 minutes. That's when Montepaschi caught fire at both ends of the floor. Kaukenas and Terrell McIntyre put up their first triples and Sato added his second as the hosts pulled ahead 18-11. Meanwhile, Montepaschi's defense held Unics to just free throws the rest of the quarter. The next triple by Kaukenas made it 24-11 and then he, Lonny Baxter and McIntyre made layups to leave a 30-15 scoreboard after a quarter, giving hope of a full 30-point comeback in the series to the local fans.
That hope disappeared when Chikalkin hit the floor to start the second quarter. Within 2 minutes, he had buried 3 three-pointers while Ksystof Lavrinovic hit free throws to reduce the difference to 30-26. Forte revived Montepaschi with a pair of strikes from downtown, but Unics had rejoined the battle now, and soon pulled within 41-36 when Dusko Savanovic drilled from the arc to answer McIntyre. Stevenson soon did the same to get Unics as close as 46-42, which was also the difference at halftime as Lavrinovic made it 48-44 with a layup.
Forte was the only scorer in the first couple minutes after halftime, but suddenly, Unics uncorked its points. Darjus Lavrinovic got the visitors started on a 3-10 run that ended with his layup giving Unics a 53-54 lead, its first since early in the game. He and his teammates were hardly finished. Egor Meshcheryakov, Stevenson and Lavrinovic, this time from long-distance, kept the surge going until 53-60. Samoylenko soon chipped in 3 points of his own to make it a double-digit Unics lead, 55-65, before Sato, McIntyre, Benjamin Eze and Kaukenas rallied Montepaschi to within 67-68 after 30 minutes.
Montepaschi was far from winning the series, but showed in the fourth quarter that it wanted the victory in front of its fans. McIntyre, Sato and Forte combined to forge a 74-74 tie after 32 minutes. When Kaukenas did the honors of pushing the hosts ahead, however, Chikalkin resurfaced in a big way, downing a triple and the free throw that came with it for a rare four-point play. Sato and Stombergas dueled with triples, then Forte and Chikalkin fired back and forth, too, as the score stayed close, 85-86. Forte was unstoppable now, scoring 15 points himself in just over 2 minutes in which he downed layups, dunks, jumpers and three-point shots with equal ease. His next basket gave Montepaschi a 96-93 lead early in the final minute, but those were the home team's last points. Ksystof Lavrinovic got to the line first, Samoylenko drove for the go-ahead basket and the Unics defense did the rest to ensure a sweep on the way to the semifinals.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007