A do-or-die thriller solved in overtime allowed both Unicaja and Partizan to advance to the Top 16. The Spanish team won on the road by 90-94 earning a berth in the second phase. Despite its loss, other results and the fact that it only lost by 4 points, allowed Partizan to qualify as best sixth. Lottomatica's blowout home win over Cibona was the key result that allowed Partizan to advance. Unicaja qualifies with a 7-7 record in fourth place, while Partizan is sixth with a 6-8. The game in Belgrade was intense as a game can be, with Unicaja dominating most of the game. However, Partizan never gave up despite a starting 2-15 and in the end they managed to jump ahead in the last period. In the last seconds however, two missed free throws by Milenko Tepic allowed Pepe Sanchez to blast a monster three that sent the game into overtime with an 83-83 tie. In the extra session, points rained in but in the end, Unicaja got the upper hand and took the win. Sanchez led the winners with 20 points, Jiri Welsch had 18, Daniel Santiago 13, Marko Tusek 12 and Carlos Cabezas and Berni Rodriguez had 11 apiece for Unicaja. For Partizan, Predrag Drobnjak played one of his best games of the season with 23 points, Vonteego Cummings added 16, Uros Tripkovic 13 and Nikola Pekovic 12.
The game was rocky at the beginning with fouls on both sides, but it was Unicaja's Jiri Welsch who opened the game with a three and Daniel Santiago's long jumper made it 0-5. Partizan started struggling in offense and Unicaja had patience to attack calm and Carlos Cabezas hit two buckets for a 0-9. Kosta Perovic finally scored from below for the hosts after 5 minutes making it 2-11. Unicaja stayed calm and kept playing its game, defending hard and attacking patiently, and two Berni Rodriguez free throws made it 2-15. Perovic copied him to get Partizan going and when Vonteego Cummings blocked Cabezas' shot, Uros Tripkovic blasted a three and showed that the hosts were alive. Novica Velickovic nailed a new three after Florent Pietrus' bucket as Partizan trimmed the deficit down to 10-19. Cabezas and Luka Bogdanovic traded new baskets but there would only be time for one more free throw by Pepe Sanchez, to close the first quarter with a 12-22 Unicaja edge.
Two free throws by Pietrus opened the second quarter and Sanchez's tight defense earned him a steal with fastbreak for 14-26. Partizan had the same difficulties of the first minutes and Predrag Drobnjak could only sink one of two free throws for the hosts. But a bit later, Drobnjak beat the shot clock with a triple from the croner that set the stands of Pionir on fire, 20-30. A new dunk off an offensive rebound by Drobnjak forced Unicaja's timeout as the hosts broke the 10-point barrier, 22-30. Two inside balls for Nikola Pekovic ended at the bottom of the net for 26-30 as Unicaja found now a big wall in Partizan's paint. Santiago broke the spell for Unicaja from the line with one, but Cummings scored both for 28-31 and then added a triple after Unicaja's new turnover to tie the game, 31-31. Five straight points by Sanchez, including a triple, allowed Unicaja to breathe. Drobnjak didn't take a break and scored again, and Partizan had passes and patience to finally find Tripkovic open on one corner for the three, 36-38. Marko Tusek finally closed the first half with a long jumper that made it 36-41 at the break.
Partizan didn't take advantage of the offensive rebounds at the beginning of the third quarter and Unicaja pulled to 36-45 after Welsch and Rodriguez points. Cummings finally go Partizan going with a mid-range jumper, but a 7 of 22 in two-point shots kept the hosts away from the lead. Nerves got a hold of both teams and turnovers were the main trend now. Defenses worked hard but Tripkovic finally found a spot to blast his third three, 41-45. Carlos Jimenez copied him after a few seconds, and Santiago lifted a layup to make it 41-51. Bozic allowed Partizan to maintain a good percentage from the arc, but that alone was not enough as Unicaja had a more complete game that allowed it to maintain a 44-52 edge. Partizan tried to run in the last minute of the quarter and Perovic had an inside basket, but Welsch replied with a three-point play. However, Cummings nailed two free throws to put an end to the period with a 48-57 Unicaja edge.
Cummings also opened the decisive period with a three but Sanchez did the same for Unicaja to put things back in place, 51-60. Drobnjak fought inside for a dunk plus free throw and in the following play he nailed a bomb from downtown, 57-62 in minute 33. Unicaja had problems in the static offense, and two tripes of Cummings to the charity line made it a one-point game, 61-62, with 6 minutes to go. Two free throws by Santiago gave Unicaja some air, and Rodriguez found a long jumper for the 61-66, but Pekovic hit hard with an inside three-point play. Pekovic blasted a new three-point play for Partizan's first lead, 67-66 and Drobnjak soon lifted a layup for 69-66. Rodriguez went to the line for two free throws, and Tusek blasted a monster trhree-pointer to put Unicaja back in command, 69-71. Milenko Tepic did the same in the following play, but on the other end Iñaki De Miguel found an agonizing layup, 72-73. Drobnjak however, had still things to say with a new triple and then two more free throws for 77-73 and 2 minutes to go. Unicaja was totally blacked out and Partizan fastbreaks made things more clear now, 79-73 after Tripkovic's layup. A timeout allowed Unicaja to revive as Tusek drilled a three, but a new basket by Drobnjak seemed to seal the deal. However, that would not be as with 11 seconds to go, Tepic missed two free throws and in the remaining time, Sanchez managed to find a position for a huge three that tied the game at 83-83 as the final buzzer marked the end of the game.
Tusek started the extra session with a layup, but Dusan Kecman found a bank shot but Sanchez replied fast. Baskets rained on both sides as Cabezas hit a triple for the 88-90 and Pekovic hit a turnaround jumper to tie at 90-90 with 2 minutes to go. Sanchez managed to hit a new jumper but missed attacks on both sides made the clock tick away. With 15 seconds to go, Welsch visited the line to hit both attempts making it 90-94. Partizan had the last options but Boris Bakic and Velickovic missed jumpers as time ran out, but other results allowed both teams to make the Top 16.
Thursday, February 1, 2007