In the last Top 16 Group D game for both teams, visiting Unicaja defeated Winterthur FC Barcelona by 60-73 in a game that had no effect on the standings as the hosts were already qualified as group champions for the Quarterfinal Playoffs and the guests already eliminated. Unicaja rolled up a 7-30 lead to start the game and never looked back to finish with a 3-3 record, its best ever in the Top 16. Barcelona lost its first game in the second phase to finish at 5-1. It also learned that its opponent from Group D will be none other than archrival Real Madrid. As group champion, however, Barcelona has the homecourt advantage if the best-of-three playoff series reaches the limit. Marcus Brown was on fire as he led Unicaja with 27 points by hitting 6 of 9 triples. Daniel Santiago added 15 points and 12 boards for the winners. For Barcelona, only Rodrigo De la Fuente reached double digits with 10 points. Worse news for the hosts came in the third quarter, when Juan Carlos Navarro limped off the floor with a sprained ankle and did not return to action. His status for the quarterfinals, which start next Tuesday, was not clear.
Brown opened the scoring with a triple and Denis Marconato replied from the lane for the hosts. Daniel Santiago and Walter Herrmann combined for two inside buckets. but on the other side Juan Carlos Navarro fed Jordi Trias for layup and a 4-7 score. Marc Gasol of Barcelona soon appeared for a basket-plus-free throw, but Herrmann made it 7-16 with 5 straight points in reply. Barcelona tried to play slow and tested tactics with players who normally don't see so many minutes. After several possessions failed, Santiago finally launched the scoring race again with free throws and a slam to cap a 0-14 run that left Unicaja with a surprise lead of 7-25 after one quarter.
Brown hit a new triple to open the second quarter, and Gregor Fucka finally broke a spell that had lasted for almost 8 minutes, scoring free throws for Barcelona to make it 9-30. Roger Grimau drove to get Barca going again and Fucka joined him with a new bucket. It was Unicaja now who was struggling to score as the hosts pushed on defense, but Carlos Cabezas matched a triple by Fucka to make the scoreboard advance for the guests, too.. Cabezas and Fucka still were the only ones to score for both teams until Victor Sada of Barca found space with less than 2 seconds left to beat the halftime buzzer and leave a 19-36 score at the break.
Santiago traded inside baskets with Marconato and free throws with Navarro to start the second half. Brown posted a triple to quiet the crowd, which had seen Barcelona miss all 10 of its three-point tries until Michalis Kakiouzis finally hit one to cut Unicaja's lead to 29-43. Brown was still hot from the arc for his fourth bomb, but De la Fuente copied him for the hosts. Some bad news arrived for Barcelona when Navarro had to leave the court with a sprained ankle. With no pressure on the game and a big advantage at hand, Unicaja played with no difficulties, and with patience found good options. Santiago popped a couple of free throws and Brown a new triple as the visitors stayed in front, 42-56 after 30 minutes.
The last quarter started with a 7-0 run by Barcelona that Grimau finished as the crowd woke up and the lead was trimmed under 10 points, 47-56, for the first time since early in the game. Just when it looked like Barcelona was about to start a comeback however, Stephane Risacher blasted a new bomb to stop it. Marconato found his way to a bucket in the lane, but Brown was on fire and hit a new triple, his sixth of eight attempts, to put a 53-64 score up for Unicaja. Brown kept on scoring by himself and time ran out on a Barcelona team already looking ahead to the quarterfinal playoffs.
Thursday, March 30, 2006