The first game of the Euroleague season in basket-crazy Malaga ended in disappointment for the rabid home fans, with another guest, Union Olimpija of Slovenia, humbling Unicaja 70-77 for a huge upset in Group B. The Slovenian took it to Unicaja from the very start and used its early advantages to gain confidence. Later, Olimpija kept its head in the crucial moments, and knew how to control the tempo of the game, forcing Unicaja into confusion on the offensive end. Big man Jasko Poljak led the guests with 19 points, while Vladimir Boisa and Jasmin Hukic added 12 each and Vlado Ilievski 11. For the losers Roger Esteller led the way with 13 points. Olimpija takes a 1-0 step up in a Group B where every single game promises to be crucial, while Unicaja slips out of the gate at 0-1 and will have to go looking for its own road win later to make up for this one.
The first quarter saw a somehow unexpected tornado from Union Olimpija, who with a young team put Unicaja Malaga against the wall immediately. Adam Wojcik emerged as the savior of the hosts, the only one who could impede the guests from pulling away any further, though he had help from Carlos Cabezas. On the other hand, the guests showed more effi efficiency in the offensive end, as Vladimir Boisa and Jasmin Hukic led Olimpija to leads of more than 5 points.
A jumper by Louis Bullock and a penetration by Ademola Okulaja got the hosts a bit closer at 21-26 early in the second quarter. But then a smooth individual defense by Union Olimpija that worked perfectly, put the hosts in serious shooting difficulty, while the guests got big power in the paint with Poljak. Unicaja was definitely back on track with a providential three by Okulaja (26-28) but Hukic replied with another one. Head coach Bozidar Maljkovic had to stop the reaction of Union Olimpija that boosted to 26-33 after a lay-up by Poljak. The period entered the last minute with a press defense by Unicaja and a 31-39 score, as Union Olimpija showed clearer ideas in offense. Hukic put some magic in the game with an unbelievable three on the buzzer from the side that closed the first half with the visitors in control, 33-43.
After the break, the trend of the game stayed the same, with Union Olimpija defending the 10-point lead and setting the tempo against a Unicaja searching for answers. It took a timeout for Unicaja to realize that the weapon it needed was the superiority in the paint of Frederic Weis, but defensive adjustments of the guests impeded it. A three by Berni Rodriguez pulled Unicaja within 6 points and the fans started to push their team. When Esteller hit one for 51-55 it looked like Unicaja was in the game again. The guests though, knew how to keep calm and play with fluency, waiting for the right moment to shoot, or looking for Poljak, who had also pulled 7 boards by then, under the basket. After 30 minutes, the Slovenian team was ahead by 6 points, 53-59.
The game entered the final period with Unicaja reverting to indecision on the offensive end, where what it needed was to make up points. But on the other side, Olimpija, with Poljak on the bench, never managed to take full advantage of the situation, despite the three-pointer by Petar Dujmovic that put the lead at 9 points, 55-64, with 7 minutes to go. A huge three by Mous Sonko fell miraculously from the sky to put Unicaja back in the game when the fans were getting prepared for the worst. Robert Stelmahers became the worst menace for the hosts with his good play-calling and crucial baskets. The play that turned the game upside down arrived with 1 minute, 20 seconds to go, when Cabezas hit a layup for 68-73 and Hukic lost the ball on the next play. Another providential basket, this by Esteller, made it 70-73 with 1 minute to go. Stelmahers put things back in place from the free throw line, and Bullock missed a three, while the seconds kept passing. A missed basket by Sonko under the rim at 70-77 and 30 seconds to go gave the game for the Slovenian team, which had the answers all night long.
Wednesday, October 9, 2002