The surprising Opel Skyliners joined a three-way tie in the middle of tough Group C with a 73-67 comeback decision againt Unicaja on Wednesday night for their second win at home in Frankfurt, Germany. Unicaja had double-digit leads during the first half, but good defense by Opel forced 18 Unicaja turnovers and allowed Pascall Roller to hit a decisive jumper and a make a steal to preserve the victory at the finish. As such, Opel lifted its record to 2-3 to join Unicaja and fellow-Spanish power Tau Ceramica in a tie for fourth place. Roller and Tyrone Ellis led Opel with 21 points each, combining to make 6 of 13 triples, while Chris Williams added 16 points. For Unicaja, Jorge Garbajosa had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds. Stephane Risacher added 19 points, including 4 of 7 triples, J.R. Bremer 14 and Fran Vazquez 10 for Unicaja.
Roller opened the night with a three-pointer and Williams an alley-oop basket as Opel got going, 5-2. Garbajosa replied with 4 straight points in the paint to put Unicaja ahead, 5-6. Against all man-to-man defense, Roller and Risacher launched and made triples on the way to a 12-12 tie. Their confidence increased until they were in a duel, with Roller adding another shot from the arc, before Garbajosa answered him for a 16-23 scoreboard. A new triple by Ellis pulled Opel within 22-27 but a last three-pointer by Risacher cemented Unicaja's advantage at 22-30 after 10 minutes. At that time, Risacher already had 13 points and Roller 11.
Bremer gave Unicaja its first double-digit lead, 22-32, but scoring subsided as strong defenses took over in the second quarter. Both teams looked inside to score. Robert Maras obliged for Opel, but Florent Pietrus did the same for Unicaja, slamming a feed by Bremer that made it 28-38. That, however, is when Opel forged an 8-2 run with points by Roller, Williams and Jukka Matinen. Opel's defense tightened around the basket and left Unicaja stuck on 40 points. Williams took his team step by step from the free throw line and a last jumper by Roller from 6 meters on the halftime buzzer pulled the hosts within 38-40 at the break.
Both teams went back to shooting triples after halftime, but Opel also tried to run with Unicaja's turnovers. Such occasions were not abundant, however, as Risacher rained a new triple and Ellis added 2 in a row from the arc to answer him with a new Opel lead of 48-43. Bremer did the same, with 6 straight points for Unicaja, who then got a sweet jumper by Vazquez for its own new lead, 50-51. Williams took over for Opel, driving when perimeter shots were impossible, but Vazquez maintained Unicaja with a new basket from the baseline, 52-57. Unicaja had 11 turnovers already but still prospered as Bremers free throws preserved a four-point lead that Williams, driving to the basket again, trimmed to a basket, 58-60, after 30 minutes.
Ellis tied it up 60-60 to start the final quarter, making it a new game. Defenses continued to dominate, and free throws kept the tie going at 64-64. Unicaja clearly lost its concentration as Spiros Panteliadis made an easy steal, but Garbajosa kept fighting in the paint and gave the visitors another lead, 65-66. The score didn't move until Ellis added 2 free throws and then drew an offensive foul from Bremer that allowed Roller to hit the jumper for a 69-66 Opel lead with 1 minute, 40 seconds to go. Opel's defense held as Garbajosa managed to make only 1 of 2 free throws. With 40 seconds left came the decisive moment, as Unicaja let Garbajosa shoot a triple that missed, and Opel gave the ball to Roller to finish the game. Unicaja chose not to foul, but Roller found a small space in which to launch a clean jumper that hit nothing but net for a 71-67 Opel lead. There was still some time for Unicaja to try a last play, but Roller managed to steal the ball once again to secure a major win for the hosts.
Wednesday, December 1, 2004