Aris TT Bank please treated its fans to the club's first-ever Top 16 victory in the last chance of the round by downing Group G champion Unicaja 83-65 at home in Thessaloniki, Greece on Wednesday. Aris finished Group G with a 1-5 record and avoided to become the only team to lose all of its Top 16 games. Meanwhile, Unicaja dropped to 4-2 but was already the Group G champion despite finishing in a first-place tie with Dynamo Moscow due to tiebreak advantages. Simonas Serapinas led the winners with 16 points off the bench. Alex Scales added 13 points, Mike Wilkinson and Dimitris Tsaldaris each had 11 while Savvas Iliadis scored 10 points for Aris. Marcus Faison had 18 points for Unicaja while Daniel Santiago added 13 for the guests, who travelled without Pepe Sanchez and Ignacio De Miguel. Aris limited Unicaja to just 14-of-35 two-pointers and 8-of-29 triples tonight, and forced the guests into 20 turnovers. Aris broke the game open at halftime, 38-23, and Unicaja never recovered, allowing the home fans in the stands to finish a historical Euroleague season with a smile on their faces.
Aris came out poised to please its crowd with a first Top 16 victory and, thanks to the backcourt tandem of Alex Scales and Terrel Castle, burst in front 6-2. Marco Tusek then scored a layup for Unicaja, but Jeremiah Massey answered by grabbing an offensive rebound and making it 8-4. Celebrating a rare start, Thessaloniki native Kostas Vasiliadis knocked down a jumper, while Scales mde sure Aris stayed in front, 10-6. Carlos Cabezas converted a Jiri Welsch assist into a triple, but Massey continued dominating inside with 4 points in the paint. Tusek hit a triple to pull Unicaja within 14-12, however it was evident that the guests were not as concentrated as usual by the unusual number of turnovers they coughed up. So, when Savvas Iliadis delivered from downtown for Aris, the gap widened to 17-12 after 10 minutes of play.
Iliadis opened the second quarter with a jumper and then veteran Mahmud Abdul-Rauf copied him, boosting the Aris margin to 21-12. Playing his farewell game for the hosts, Abdul-Rauf was determined to satisfy the Yellow hords in the stands and so he did. He stole the ball from Daniel Santiago and fed rarely used Kevin Fletcher for a three-pointer that put Aris up by double digits, 24-12. During a four-minute span, Abdul-Rauf enjoyed 3 steals and even though Marcus Faison provided a mini-spark for Unicaja, Aris added to its lead. Finally, Santiago scored 3 free throws, but it wasn't long before Dimitris Tsaldaris drained a triple that triggered a 6-0 run. Soon after, the half ended with Aris holding a solid 38-23 lead.
The second half commenced with Michael Wilkinson connecting from beyond the arc to make it 41-23. Scales did not have trouble striking from downtown, either, propelling Aris to an emphatic 49-26 advantage. Tusek tried to awaken his teammates with his second triple, but Scales was now gunning without conscience and carrying the momentum. Another triple courtesy of Wilkinson stretched the lead to 54-29 after 26 minutes. Aris had turned for this game - into a scoring force, while Unicaja head coach Sergio Scariolo called for a timeout in order to regroup his forces for a counter-offensive. Unicaja found a go-to-guy in Vasiliadis, who scored 6 points then, but little else changed, as defensively the visitors could not keep Aris from marching to a 58-37 lead after three quarters.
Aris started the final quarter in high gear once again, as Iliadis drilled a triple at 61-37. Unicaja replied with a dunk by Santiago, while Faison knocked down a triple that trimmed the lead to 61-42. Abdul-Rauf upped the ante with a triple. The guests fed the ball inside to Santiago who bullied his way inside and finished it with authority, however this was an exception as otherwise nothing seemed to work for them on offense. Meanwhile, Serapinas and Tsaldaris loaded their pistols and fired in decisive triples that vaulted Aris to a 72-50 lead. Everyone was happy. Aris and its fans had their first-ever Top 16 victory while Unicaja was going home to prepare for the playoffs. Danos Tsakalos
Wednesday, March 21, 2007