Unicaja did what it had to in order to stay eligible for the Top 16 when it defeated visiting Benetton Treviso 74-59 in their last Group C game of the regular season on Wednesday. Unicaja finished with a 6-8 record, the same as Tau Ceramica, but fell to sixth place due to a tiebreak disadvantage on point difference between them. Unicaja must wait until Thursday to see if it has the best sixth-place finish in the competition. If Montepaschi beats Scavolini in Group B on Thursday, Unicaja is in the Top 16: if Scavolini wins, Unicaja is eliminated. Unicaja's secret weapon turned out to be Walter Herrmann, who came off the bench to drill 21 points almost without a miss in the middle quarters, when the hosts broke the game open. Fran Vazquez added 14 points for the winners, Jorge Garbajosa 11 and J.R. Bremer 10. Benetton, playing without top scorers Massimo Bulleri and Marlon Garnett, got 16 points from Marcus Goree and 10 each from Ramunas Siskauskas and Paccelis Morlende, but suffered a 33-23 disadvantage in rebounding. The defeat dropped Benetton's record to 8-6 and cost it second place in Group C after a tiebreak difference of 3 points in its head-to-head games with Panathinaikos.
Garbajosa, despite an injury that made him doubtful of playing, was the main man early against his old team. He drilled a shot from the corner and then his first triple attempt from the top of the circle to establish a 7-4 lead for Unicaja. Benetton went twice inside to Denis Marconato to stay close, but his young counterpart on Unicaja, Vazquez, ran the floor well for a fastbreak put-back to keep the hosts ahead 11-8. Benetton picked apart the Unicaja defense now for a basket by Goree and free throws by Joey Beard that gave the visitors an 11-12 edge. From there, ownership of the lead went back and forth on free throws from Garbajosa, a lane jumper by David Bluthenthal of Benetton, three-pointers by Carlos Cabezas and Morlende, and an inside move by Vazquez, now up to 8 points. The last word of the quarter went to Marconato, however, and he dropped a hook to leave the visitors in front 18-19 after 10 minutes.
Risacher opened the second quarter taking back the lead for Unicaja from the foul line, but Siskauskas spoke next. His open three-pointer was followed by a lane jumper over Zan Tabak to establish what was a big lead so far, 20-24. Unicaja tied again, however, as Bremer drove strong and Herrmann posted up. Benetton kept in front with baskets by Bluthenthal and Goree as the half-way point in the quarter passed, but Herrmann was just getting going. After a short jumper by Garbajosa, he posted up for the go-ahead basket and then took a sweet fastbreak pass from Pepe Sanchez and reversed the layup for a 32-28 lead that forced a Benetton timeout. After the visitors got within 33-30, Herrmann went to the line and hit 2 free throws then pitched in his first triple attempt to lift Unicaja to a 40-32 halftime lead. Herrmann made all his shots in the half, 3 two-pointers, the triple and 4 free throws, without a miss.
Garbajosa started the second half by pushing the Unicaja lead to double-digits, 42-32. Morlende's 5 points brought Benetton as close as 43-47 before Unicaja reasserted itself. Cabezas drove for a basket before Vazquez took over. He got loose for a dunk alone and dropped a short jumper as the lead ballooned to 49-37, forcing another Benetton timeout. After Bluthenthal popped a triple for the guests, however, Herrmann matched him and then he and Vazquez made acrobatic shots in the paint. Unicaja was fully in charge now, at 56-40, but just to make sure, Herrmann buried another three-pointer from the corner, giving him 21 to that point and sending Unciaja to a new high lead of 59-40. Even when a three-point play by Goree let Benetton cut the difference to 14 points, Bremer drove the length of the court to beat the buzzer for a 61-45 scoreboard after 30 minutes.
When Goree opened the final quarter with a triple, Bremer just copied him at the other end, on the shot-clock buzzer no less. Only Goree seemed to be able to do anything for Benetton now, drawing a foul inside and hitting both free throws. A couple sloppy minutes by both teams ended with Bremer again drilling from the arc again for 69-50 lead. Siskauskas finally became the first Benetton player besides Goree to score in over 7 minutes, but Sanchez simply responded for Unicaja with a triple at the other end, establishing a high lead of 72-52. There was no doubt that this was Unicaja's night, but it remained to be seen if that was going to be good enough to make the Top 16.
Wednesday, February 9, 2005