Lietuvos Rytas put the keys to Group B in its own hands when it turned back visiting Unicaja 71-63 in thrilling fashion at home in Vilnius, Lithuania on Wednesday. Both teams had entered the game in a first-place tie with Maccabi Tel Aviv, which plays Thursday. Now holding a 10-3 record, L. Rytas will clinch first place even if it ties with Maccabi, Unicaja or both at the end of the regular season next week. The winners had a hero in Hollis Price, whose amazing six-point play to close the third quarter stopped Unicaja's biggest charge of the night, while his steal and three-point play in the closing seconds made doubly sure of the victory. Prive finished with 23 points and 6 assists for L. Rytas, which also got 11 points each from Martynas Gecevicius and Marijonas Petravicius. Unicaja, whose record fell to 9-4, got 22 points from Marcus Haislip and 16 from Boniface N'Dong but otherwise struggled to score.
Matt Nielsen and Mindaugas Lukauskis connected on three-pointers to get the home crowd rocking. Neilsen's inside basket made it 10-4 before Davor Kus downed a baseline jumper for Unicaja. Daniel Santiago blocked Chuck Eidson before Price fed Petravicius cutting then hit a lane jumper to double Unicaja on the scoreboard, 14-7. Petravicius added a free throw and L. Rytas kept pressing fullcourt, with Lukauskis finishing a fastbreak for the first double-digit lead, 17-7. Price feeding Praskevicius for another basket was answered by a jump hook from Haislip, who then put back an offensive rebound to make it 19-11. Price got open and buried a triple, however, to raise the roof and the lead to 22-11. Haislip and Kus finished the first quarter with free throws that trimmed the difference to 22-15.
Kenan Bajramovic's turnaround baseline jumper opened the second quarter for L. Rytas, but Carlos Jimenez answered with a triple from the corner and N'Dong downed an offensive rebound for Unicaja to close within 24-20. Petravicius and N'Dong traded points, as did Joao Paulo Batista and Jimenez before the latter's steal led, at the other end, to a triple on the shot-clock buzzer by Berni Rodriguez, getting Unicaja within 28-26. Missed foul shots could have hurt L. Rytas but great defense and acrobatic fastbreak layups by Arturas Jomantas and Gecevicius made it 33-26. After a Unicaja timeout and a lull in scoring, Gecevicius launched and hit from the arc to reestablish a double-digit lead, to which Price added a driving layup to finish the half with L. Rytas fully in charge, 41-28.
Carlos Cabezas drilled corner triple while N'Dong blocked a Praskevicius dunk attempt and hit a short jumper as Unicaja sought to rally after halftime. L. Rytas went 3 minutes without scoring and saw Nieslen leave the game with an ankle injury. Meanwhile N'Dong downed a hook to cut the difference to 41-35. Bajramovic broke the hosts' cold spell, but N'Dong stayed hot with a high-flying dunk. Lukauskis buouyed L. Rytas with a big triple to make it 46-37. Unicaja answered, however, with a trio of dunks - alley-oops to N'Dong and Haislip, who also slammed a free throw rebound as the guests got within 46-43. A couple tense, defensive-minded minutes followed before Haislip's post-up turnaround fell and Price responded with a jumper. Jiri Welsch's free throws got Unicaja within 48-47, but a foul called while Price tried a three-point shot earned visiting coach Sergio Scariolo's ire - and his technical foul. Price hit 4 of 5 free throws and a reverse layup on the same possession to restore a 54-47 L. Rytas lead after 30 minutes.
Price went high over N'Dong for a layup to start the final quarter. N'Dong and Joamantas traded points before Cabezas buried a triple to make it a new game at 58-54 . Gecevicius stepped up again with a short jumper, then he found Petravicius with a lob to keep L. Rytas up 62-54 and force a Unicaja timeout with just over 5 minutes left. Unicaja went inside again to the unstoppable N'Dong, then used a steal and layup by Rodriguez to make it 62-58. After a huge long defensive standoff, Welsh missed free throws and left the same score entering the final 2 minutes. After a timeout, it was Price - who else? - who struck first, hitting a lane jumper at 64-58. Haislip's free throws made it 64-60 with 1:14 left, but a big offensive rebound by Bajramovic led to his game-sealing layup off an inbound pass from Price with 39 seconds left. For good measure, Price stole Unicaja's inbounds pass, scored and hit a free throw to make sure that L. Rytas would decide the Group B winner for itself.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008