Unicaja took an important step forwards to reach the Top 16 in difficult Group B by downing Cibona 62-76 in Zagreb, Croatia on Thursday. Unicaja improved to 7-2 and will keep tying for the top spot in Group B at the end of this round. Meanwhile, Cibona registered its first home loss in its Euroleague season, dropped to 3-6, stayed sixth in Group B. Jiri Welsch, Marcus Haislip and Berni Rodriguez paced the winners each with 15 points. Carlos Cabezas added 11 while Boniface Ndong grabbed 14 rebounds and had 5 blocks for Unicaja. Sam Hoskin and Chris Warren each had 14 points for Cibona while Larry Ayuso added 13. Rodriguez, Welsch and Cabezas stroke from downtown in a 2-15 opening run. German Gabriel allowed Unicaja to keep a 17-26 edge after 10 minutes. Cibona allowed only 6 points in the second quarter, while Tre Kelley and Ayuso helped Cibona to tie the game, 32-32. Gabriel and Cabezas helped Unicaja to regain a safe lead, 43-50, after 30 minutes, but Cibona still managed to tie it at 57-57 on a triple by Warren. It didn't last long, as Haislip and Cabezas fueled a 0-13 run that Welsch capped with a three-pointer to seal the outcome down the stretch.
Rodriguez needed just 4 seconds to bury his first three-pointer. Welsch also stroke from downtown for a 0-6 Unicaja lead. Cibona was lost at both ends, while a close jumper by Ndong capped a 0-8 opening run for Unicaja. Hoskin finally got Cibona going with a fast break layup but Haislip erased it with a power dunk and Cabezas nailed a corner triple to make Cibona call timeout at 2-13. Haislip provided a highlight with a huge dunk but a free throws by Warren and a driving basket by Ayuso got Cibona within 5-15. The hosts opted to put more pressure in defense while Warren stepped up with a floating layup. Welsch scored from downtown from the top of the key but Hoskin hit a mid-range jumper and Kelley joined the three-point shootout to make Unicaja call timeout at 12-18. Gabriel stepped up with another triple while Ndong had consecutive blocks on Hoskin and Ayuso, as Cibona opted for a small lineup with Warren as power forward. Hoskin made free throws but Rodriguez answered from downtown for a 14-24 Unicaja margin. Barisa Krasic nailed a triple but a jump hook by Gabriel fixed the score at 17-26 after 10 minutes. Unicaja had made 6-for-7 three-pointers so far.
Kelley insisted with another three-pointer early in the second quarter while Hoskin added a fast break layup to bring Cibona back to life, 22-26. Once again Kelley capped a 7-0 run with a driving layup, as Unicaja had been scoreless for 2 minutes. Bojan Popovic stepped up with a stop-and-pop jumper, as Cibona entered the foul bonus with 7 minutes to go in this period. Hoskin made free throws to keep Cibona in the game, 26-28. Unicaja kept struggling to find the way to the basket while Ayuso buried his first three-pointer to give the hosts their first lead, 29-28. Welsch made a free throw, as Unicaja also opted for a small lineup with Carlos Jimenez at power forward and Paulo Prestes at center. Popovic collected a steal and had a no-look assist for Welsch but Unicaja did not find any open shot now. Ayuso buried a big triple coming off a screen to get Cibona back ahead, 32-31. Unicaja had not taken advantage of its many minutes into the foul bonus, but a free throw by Popovic tied the game, 32-32, at halftime. Cibona had limited Unicaja to just 6 second-quarter points, in arguably its best defensive minutes this season.
Ayuso made Cibona regain the lead with free throw after the break but Cibona had improved its defense. Its problems kept coming in the other end, however, until Rodriguez fired in one from downtown for a 33-35 Unicaja edge. Franko Kastropil made free throws but Rodriguez erased them with a driving layup while Haislip added a three-point play to give Unicaja some fresh air, 35-40. Cibona had problems to score now, committing too many easy turnovers, so the hosts opted to bring Hoskin back on court. Ndong kept intimidating everyone until Vedran Vukusic stepped up with an electric driving layup. Gabriel answered with his trademark three-pointer from the top of the key and soon added a free throw to give Unicaja a safe lead, 37-44. Warren shined with a driving basket, but Cibona did not improved its defense right hewn it needed it most. Even with that, Cabezas hit free throws but Warren fired in one from downtown to give Cibona some hope, 41-46. Free throws by Welsch, a close layup by Hoskin and a big jumper by Ndong fixed the score at 43-50 at the end of the third quarter.
Krasic hit a fallaway shot right at the start of the fourth quarter but Popovic made free throws that an unstoppable Ndong followed with a put-back dunk to make it a nine-point game, 45-54. Warren tried to change things with a layup-plus-foul while Hoskin buried a mid-range jumper to get Cibona as close as 50-54 with 7 minutes remaining. Ayuso sank an off-balanced jumper off a Unicaja timeout to bring Cibona within 52-54, after a 7-0 run. Cabezas stepped up with a corner three-pointer, as Cibona switched to zone defense midway through the final period. Ayuso beat Jimenez in a one-on-one situation while Warren buried a big triple off the dribble that tied the game, 57-57. Rodriguez made free throws while Cabezas buried a critical three-pointer that made Cibona call timeout, 57-62, with 3 minutes to go. Cibona kept missing shots down the stretch, while Haislip followed a jump hook with a layup-plus-foul to seal the outcome, 57-67. Welsch capped a game-breaking 0-13 run with a corner triple that allowed dozens of Unicaja fans in the stands to celebrate a big road win.
Thursday, December 20, 2007