Ulker bounced back its first loss in a month to take prime position in the Group C race for the Top 16 when it beat Unicaja 66-62 at home in Istanbul on Thursday. Ulker improved to 6-4 in the standings, good enough for a tie for the second spot in Group C, while Unicaja dropped to 3-7, one win behind fifth-place Tau Ceramica. Serkan Erdogan, who received the Euroleague MVP of the Month award for December before the game from new Turkish national team coach Bogdan Tanjevic, led the winners with 18 points. Kerem Tunceri added 13 and Saulius Stombergas 11 for Ulker, which used a 14-2 run in the final period to seal the win. Unicaja, which lost center Fran Vazquez early in the game with a sprained ankle, was led by Carlos Cabezas with 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting, while Jorge Garbajosa posted a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Both teams started the game with strong man-to-man defense and Ulker dominated the boards in the early going, with a very active Eurelijus Zukauskas, while Erdogan scored coming off the baseline to give Ulker the initial lead, 2-0. Unicaja took more than 2 minutes to make something besides a free throw, but Cabezas followed a basket in penetration with a coast-to-coast layup to put the visitors ahead 3-5. Fran Vazquez added a short jumper before leaving the game with a sprained ankle. Ulker took advantage of his absence as Zukauskas scored in the paint, igniting a 9-2 run in which Erdogan had 5 points, including a three-pointer for a 12-9 local lead. Unicaja played with short possessions against Ulker's aggressive defense, but the guests went scoreless for 4 minutes until Berni Rodriguez finished a three-on-one fastbreak that cut Ulker's lead to 12-11 after 10 minutes.
Fatih Solak stepped on court and delivered a jump hook for Ulker to start the second quarter. Unicaja continued struggling to score against Ulker's physical defense, missing 4 shots until its own back-up center, Sean Rooks, scored on consecutive baskets to seize a 14-15 edge for the visitors after 14 minutes. Virginjus Praskevicius answered from downtown for Ulker, but the guests did not panic. Jesus Lazaro made a fallaway jumper and Unicaja defense shined. It didn't last long, however, as Tunceri came to the rescue with a couple of mid-range jumpers, and Zukauskas added a jump hook for a 23-22 Ulker edge. Dion Glover woke the fans up with a two-handed slam that turned into a three-point play, Erdogan added a basket in penetration and Zukauskas hit a free throw to secure a 30-26 Ulker lead at halftime.
Neither team scored after the break until Erdogan fired in his third three-pointer to give Ulker its biggest lead so far, 33-26. Rooks tried to get Unicaja back into the game with a five-meter jumper, and Cabezas added a layup off a steal to make it 33-30. Stombergas shined with an outstanding four-point play and Kerem Gonlum stepped up with a six-meter jumper which boosted Ulker's edge to 41-32. Cabezas scored his fifth basket in as many attempts, but nothing changed for Unicaja until the guests called timeout and switched to 2-3 zone defense. It worked, as Ulker struggled to score now, while Garbajosa and Pietrus combined 7 points in a 0-10 run capped by Cabezas' three-pointer as Unicaja regained the lead, 43-44, after 30 minutes. Ulker also faced more trouble in that Zukauskas had already fouled out.
Ulker finally found the way to break Unicaja's defense to start the final quarter. Praskevicius stepped up with a four-meter jumper, Erdogan added a basket in penetration and Stombergas a bomb from downtown to make Ulker get a 50-48 edge. Garbajosa and Tunceri exchanged layups, but the Turkish playmaker drilled a key three-pointer to make the hosts get a 55-50 lead with less than 6 minutes to go. Unicaja called timeout, but Erdogan made a four-meter jumper and Stombergas added a long two-pointer from the left corner to give Ulker a nine-point lead, 59-50, after a 14-2 run. Garbajosa scored near the basket and Rodriguez added free throws, but the hosts played now with long possessions. Tunceri found an open jumper while Stombergas slashed to the basket to score and seal Ulker's lead at 63-54. Unicaja failed to rally, as even when a three-point play by J.R. Bremer brought Unicaja within 65-60, Ulker had already sealed the win.
Thursday, January 13, 2005