Unicaja grabbed the Group G lead and took a step closer to reaching the Quarterfinal Playoffs for the first time in club history by edging Aris TT Bank 76-74 in Malaga, Spain, on Wednesday night. Unicaja is the only unbeaten team in Group G with a 2-0 record, but will play 3 of its 4 remaining games on the road. Meanwhile, Aris dropped to 0-2 and is already in a do-or-die situation. Kostas Vasileadis led the winners with Euroleague career-highs of 16 points and 7 rebounds. Berni Rodriguez added 15 points, while Carlos Cabezas dished 7 assists, tying his Euroleague personal record, for Unicaja. Alex Scales, Mike Wilkinson and Jeremiah Massey each had 15 points for Aris while Dimitrios Tsaldaris had 11. The first half saw 13 lead changes, but a jumper by Jiri Welsch gave Unicaja a 34-33 edge. Unicaja improved its defense after the break and took a 64-52 lead with 7 minutes to go. Massey and an outstanding Scales brought Aris within 71-67 with 30.7 seconds to go, but Rodriguez hit 4 free throws to seal the win for Unicaja, as a final triple by Tsaldaris came too late.
Terrel Castle opened the scoring with a three-pointer before Cabezas got Unicaja going with a put-back basket. Aris shined on defense in the opening minutes, not allowing any easy shots. Meanwhile, Tsaldaris buried a corner triple for a 2-6 Aris lead. Carlos Jimenez dunked in penetration, but Wilkinson answered with a four-meter jumper. Vasileadis hit consecutive triples, one from each corner, to tie it at 10-10. Unicaja could not find Daniel Santiago near the basket, while Tsaldaris nailed another bomb from downtown for a 10-13 Aris edge. Santiago hit free throws and Rodriguez added a driving layup, which Massey matched with a put-back basket to keep the guests ahead, 14-15. Vasileadis followed free throws with his third three-pointer and Rodriguez scored in transition for a 21-17 Unicaja lead after 10 minutes.
Scales buried a three-pointer right at the start of the second quarter, as Unicaja lost control in the opening 2 minutes of this period. Tsaldaris scored in transition to give Aris a 21-22 edge. Welsch stepped up with a triple, but Giannis Giannoulis's free throws tied it at 24-24. Unicaja had already improved its defense, but problems now came at the other end. Marcus Faison struck with a fast-break layup, but Castle answered from downtown, forcing Unicaja to call timeout at 26-27. Iñaki de Miguel and Wilkinson traded free throws before Faison provided another lead change, 30-29. Castle hit more foul shots, which Faison erased with a driving layup. Wilkinson scored in the low post, but Welsch banked in a short jumper for a 34-33 Unicaja lead at the end of a first half that saw 13 lead changes.
Unicaja came back after the break with much more intensity, especially on defense. Meanwhile, Santiago scored around the basket and Cabezas buried a triple for a 39-33 Unicaja lead. Aris went scoreless for nearly 3 minutes until Wilkinson fired in a five-meter jumper. Cabezas shined with another bomb from downtown and then fed Santiago for an easy basket, making Aris call timeout at 44-35. Wilkinson rescued Aris with a layup-plus-foul, but free throws by Rodriguez and Vasileadis kept Unicaja ahead, 47-38. Wilkinson scored again and Savvas Iliadis added a fast-break layup to give Aris some hope at 47-42. Santiago made foul shots, igniting an 8-0 Unicaja run in which Rodriguez and Vasileadis stroke from downtown for 55-42 Unicaja margin. Massey took over with a dunk and consecutive layups-plus-fouls, single-handedly bringing Aris back to life at 55-50 after 30 minutes.
Marko Tusek stepped up with a driving basket early in the fourth quarter only to see a red-hot Massey erase it at the other end. Florent Pietrus shined with a put-back layup and Pepe Sanchez spectacularly fed Welsch for an easy basket, good for a 61-52 Unicaja lead. Sanchez capped a 7-0 run with a big triple that made it a 12-point game with less than 7 minutes to go. Wilkinson came back with a tip-in and Iliadis added one from downtown to get Aris within 65-57. Rodriguez scored on a put-back, but Scales brought Aris within 67-61 with less than 3 minutes remaining. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Santiago traded free throws before Massey got Aris even closer, 68-64. Rodriguez stepped up with a critical three-pointer, but a foul shot by Massey and a fast break dunk by Scales made it 71-67 with 30.7 seconds to go. After Cabezas hit a free throw, Scales scored again for a 72-69 score with 11.1 seconds remaining. But Rodriguez sealed the win for the hosts with free throws down the stretch.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007