Despite having its head coach at home sick, Lottomatica Roma registered a first Top 16 victory when it manhandled visiting Unicaja 75-67 on Thursday in Group G. Assistant coach Guido Saibene guided Roma in the place of Jasmin Repesa, who was out sick with flu, to a victory that helped erase the bad week-old memory of the team's last-second loss to CSKA Moscow in the Top 16 opener. Roma is now 1-1 and tied for second place with AXA F.C. Barcelona, while Unicaja, a Final Four team last season, drops to last place at 0-2. Roko Leni-Ukic led the charge for Roma with 10 points, while David Hawkins added 11, Jon Stefansson and Roberto Gabini 10 each. Roma's defensive spark was Ibrahim Jaaber who came up with 7 rebounds and 8 steals off the bench. Unicaja got 20 points out of Marcus Haislp, 12 from Jiri Welsch and 11 from Davor Kus but suffered the absences of its signature homegrown perimeter due of Carlos Cabezas and Berni Rodriguez, both injured. Roma had more answers all game long on both offense and defense, shaking off a slow start to take consistent leads from the middle of the second quarter onward. When Unicaja closed within 58-56 early in the final quarter, Erazem Lorbek and Hawkins steadied the hosts before Jaaber and Ukic combined for steals to reestablish a solid lead.
Haislip went baseline and nailed free throws to start the scoreboard rolling at 0-4 for Unicaja. Roma couldn't find the basket until Ukic drove for a layup. Gregor Fucka shook off early missses by hitting a triple and a two-pointer for Roma's first lead, 7-6. Santiago gave the advantage back to Unicaja before Ukic launched and hit from downtwon to make it 10-8. Bojan Popovic tied at the free throw line before Stefansson put Roma back up, but the rest of the quarter belonged to the guests. Boniface N'Dong tied again inside, Haislip hit a go-ahead basket and then Welsch struck from downtown as Unicaja bolted ahead by 12-17 after 10 minutes.
Stefansson and Gabini started Roma's comeback by sharing all the points in a 7-0 run that vaulted the hosts back into the lead, 19-17, to start the second quarter. Davor Kus and Welsch forged a couple ties for Unicaja before German Gabriel's triple put the visitors in front again, but Gabini answered with the same shot at 24-24. The first basket by Hawkins put Roma back in front as he and Ibrahim Jaaber combined on 7 consecutive points to make it 31-24. Haislip responded with 5 points of his own, but Hawkins stuck another shot between them. Popovic at the line and Gabriel with a three-point play helped Unicaja get as close as 35-34, but a free throw by Stefansson preceded a triple by Simone Bagnoli to push Roma to a 39-34 halftime lead.
Haislip opened the second half as he had the first, but Hawkins soon buried a triple and Ukic drove past Santiago to stay up by 44-36. Unicaja got Carlos Jimenez and Welsch free underneath for baskets before Rodrigo De la Fuente buried a second-chance triple and Lorbek a foul-line jumper, his first basket, for a 49-40 Roma lead. Welsch got 3 points back in one shot for Unicaja, but Lorgek punished the visitors' zone from up top with a triple to make it 52-44. After a Unicaja timeout, Kus hit a triple off a broken play, but Roma didn't let up. Jaaber and Ukic scored off steals, and when Ukic added a jumper just inside the arc, the hosts had their first double-digit lead, 58-48. Kus and Melvin Sanders got 3 points back a the foul line before Hailsip dunked a loose ball to end the quarter by getting Unicaja within 58-53.
Welsch got to the line and Haislip scored inside to keep Unicja's run going to 8-0 early in the fourth quarter. At 58-56, Lorbek steadied Roma with free throws and then drew an offensive foul, the fourth on Haislip, sending him to Unicaja's bench. Hawkins drove through Unicaja's zone to beat the shot-clock buzzer and Gabini followed with a foul-line jumper to boost the Roma lead to 64-56 with 5 minutes left. After a Unicaja timeout, Stefansson blasted a corner triple for the biggest lead of the night, 67-56. Popovic and Ukic traded free throws with under 3 minutes left. Unicaja needed quick points and Kus got a couple driving at 69-60, but Lorbek dunked an offensive rebound. Roma had only to take care of the point margin over the last couple of minutes, because the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Thursday, February 21, 2008