Unicaja got back to the race for a Top 16 slot from Group B by beating Partizan Belgrade 66-58 at home in Malaga, Spain on Wednesday night. Both teams are now tied for the decisive fifth place at 3-4, but Cibona, DKV Joventut and Lottomatica Roma could have the same record depending on their Thursday results. Berni Rodriguez led the winners with 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Carlos Cabezas, Carlos Jimenez and Kostas Vasileadis each added 12 points for Unicaja. Vonteego Cummings led Partizan with 16 points, Nikola Pekovic added 10 while Kosta Perovic grabbed 10 rebounds for the guests. Jiri Welsch and Rodriguez fueled a 15-5 opening run that saw Unicaja take a 22-16 lead after one quarter. Another 10-0 led by Pepe Sanchez's 5 points boosted Unicaja's lead to 34-20, but Partizan cut the deficit to 49-39 at halftime and down to 59-55 midway through the fourth quarter. However, Vasileadis and Cabezas scored from downtown during a 7-0 Unicaja run, which allowed the home fans to celebrate the win long before the final buzzer.
Rodriguez needed just 12 seconds to draw a foul and make a free throw in an aggresive start that set the tone for what was to come. Partizan tried to look for Predrag Drobnjak in the early going, but it was Daniel Santiago who shined on the other end for Unicaja with a put-back dunk. Cummings answered with a layup for an early 3-3 tie. Welsch followed an alley-oop layup with a fast break dunk and Jimenez added a coast-to-coast basket, forzing a Partizan timeout at 9-3. Unicaja stayed focused on defense, while Rodriguez buried a triple that capped a 9-0 run. Cummings came to the rescue with a fallaway jumper, as Partizan tried to get things going on the other end with a zone defense. Cabezas punished the zone with a triple from the corner to give Unicaja its first double-digit margin, 15-5. Dusan Kecman stepped up with back-to-back layups, but Santiago matched it with a short jumper and free throws. Pekovic came off the bench and shined with a dunk and a put-back layup, before a mid-range jumper by Petar Bozic brought Partizan within 22-16 after 10 minutes.
Cummings scored off a steal and Perovic added a second-chance basket to get Partizan within 24-20. Unicaja did not panic, however, as Erazem Lorbek buried a three-pointer and Sanchez nailed a jumper to keep the hosts out of trouble. Partizan had trouble scoring, while Vasileadis fired in a triple that caused the guests call timeout at 32-20. Sanchez remained hot and hit an off-balance jumper, which capped a 10-0 Unicaja run to make it a 14-point game. Petar Bozic tried to change things with a three-pointer and then Vasileadis and Pekovic traded free throws, but Vasileiadis buried another triple. Drobnjak erased it with a layup-plus-foul. Another put-back basket by Pekovic brought Partizan within 39-29 at halftime.
Rodriguez fired in a three-pointer to start the second half in style. Drobnjak scored inside and Kecman added a coast-to-coast for a 0-6 Partizan run, which Pekovic capped with free throws. Cabezas rescued his team with foul shots after a timeout, but Uros Tripkovic answered from downtown to get Partizan even closer, 44-38. Jimenez followed a three-pointer with a fast break layup to extend the hosts' lead to 49-38. Kecman scored again, but Partizan had entered the foul bonus. Rodriguez and Jimenez made free throws and even after Cummings scored with a driving layup, Rodriguez copied him in the other end for a 55-42 Unicaja margin. Milenko Tepic and Cummings fueled a 0-5 Partizan run. Cabezas hit a jumper, but Tepic buried a three-pointer off the dribble to get Partizan within 57-51. Vasileadis drove baseline for a dunk to give Unicaja a 59-51 lead after three quarters.
Tripkovic fouled out early in the final period and Unicaja improved its defense when it mattered most. Points came the hard way, as both teams exchanged missed shots and turnovers, while Florent Pietrus had a huge block on Pekovic. Cummings hit one from downtown to get the guests within 59-55, but Vasileadis answered from downtown to give Unicaja some fresh air. Partizan kept trying to attack the basket without much success, while Jimenez made a free throw for a 63-55 Unicaja lead with over 4 minutes to go. Cabezas buried a three-pointer that capped a 7-0 run, which sealed the outcome, 66-55. Cummings stepped up with a three-point play but it was too little, too late for Partizan. Unicaja was already using long possessions and ran out the clock on an important win.
Wednesday, December 6, 2006