Unicaja outlasted Zalgiris Kaunas 85-78
Unicaja came from behind to force overtime and then rode the hot hand of Kristaps Valters and the dominance inside of Joel Freeland for an 85-78 victory over Zalgiris Kaunas on Tuesday night at Martin Carpena Arena in Malaga, Spain. Freeland, who led Unicaja with 21 points and 12 rebounds, scored 7 points in the extra session and Valters, who finished with 20, nailed 2 clutch three-pointers in overtime to help steer Unicaja to its first Group B win in its second game. Tremmell Darden added 10 points for the winners and Berni Rodriguez was also strong at both ends of the floor, including hitting 2 free throws in the final minute of regulation time that evened the score at 67-67. Sonny Weems paced Zalgiris with 21 points and 8 rebounds, Marko Popovic scored 18 and Mantas Kalnietis had 11. For Zalgiris, which dropped to 0-2, the biggest trouble was turnovers as the visitors committed 20 compared to just 9 by Unicaja.
The game got off to a quick start with both teams running, but missing their first few shots. Weems got going first for the visitors with a three-pointer for his second basket to make it 4-8. Luka Zoric worked in the paint for a basket-plus-foul and Valters fed Darden on the break for a slam to make it 9-8. After Weems fed Robertas Javtokas inside, Ty Lawson got going with a nifty move to the basket followed by a steal and layup. After a timeout, Zalgiris went with twin point guards by bringing in DeJuan Collins alongside Lawson. But it was the home team that heated up as Gerald Fitch’s basket was followed by Valters from downtown. Zalgiris revamped its backcourt again by turning to Popovic and Kalnietis and Weems sank a tough jumper, but Unicaja finished the quarter strongest after Valters set up Nedzad Sinanovic for a vicious slam and Valters beat the buzzer with a jumper to make it 22-19 after 10 minutes.
Weems knotted the score with a triple one minute into the second quarter. Popovic followed with 4 straight points to put the visitors ahead. Unicaja was unlucky at the rim and was punished as Tadas Klimavicius sank a mid-range jumper to cap a 0-9 run. Berni Rodriguez ended a four-minute Unicaja drought with a steal and layup. At the other end, Mindaugas Kuzminskas took advantage of a hole in the Unicaja defense to attack the basket for a slam-and-foul to make it 24-30. Some aggressive defense at both ends provided highlights. Klimavicius stretched the lead to 9 with a triple. Feeland found his touch with baskets down low on back-to-back possessions, but Lawson and Tomas Delininkaitis kept Zalgiris in control. A pretty finish by Weems gave the visitors their first double-digit lead, 28-39. Rowland fed a cutting Fitch for a basket to cut the gap to 30-39 at halftime.
Valters connected from behind the arc on the first play of the second half and then Darden did the same as Unicaja got right back in the game. Fitch added free throws and Luka Zoric attacked the rim to cap a 10-0 start to the half that put Unicaja ahead by 1. Kalnietis hit from outside to revive the visitors. Freeland and Milavan Rakovic swapped baskets and leads as the excitement picked up. Zoric soared to reject Lawson, but soon Weems scored and stuck Zoric with a foul. Zoric later tied it from the line at 47-47. After a Valters-to-Darden alley-oop missed, Weems scored at the other end for Zalgiris. And Kalnietis came up with a steal and slam to put the visitors ahead by 4. With a minute left in the quarter, Valters roamed into the paint for a floater, but Weems hit a free throw to end the quarter at 49-52.
A Popovic triple put Zalgiris back ahead by 6 at the start of the deciding quarter. Javtokas missed twice from the line in an attempt to extend the advantage. Instead Jorge Garbajosa popped in a triple to cut the deficit in half. The momentum swung as Unicaja came up empty on a three-on-one fast break and instead Kuzminskas scored from the line at the other end. A Darden jumper was spot on to close the gap to 3 once more. Zalgiris broke the Unicaja defense on an inbounds play that left Weems open for a slam. Tough defense and jittery offenses kept scoring low and left Zalgiris with a small cushion to rest on. Weems got to the line to make it 54-61 with just under five minutes remaining. But baskets by Freeland and Berni quickly brought the hosts back within a single possession. Freeland shook the arena with a slam that put 60-61 on the scoreboard with two-and-a-half minutes left. Popovic answered with a smooth bank shot only to see Berni rain down a triple that evened the score to 63-63 with 1:54 to play. After a timeout, Weems dribbled off his foot and Freeland drew Paulius Jankunas’s fifth foul, but missed the resulting free throws. Popovic took advantage with a clutch triple with 1:26 left. Valters kept Unicaja close from the line and Berni tied it at 67-67 with 52 seconds on the clock. Popovic missed a triple and Unicaja wound up with the ball for a final shot, but Valters missed a deep three and the game went to an extra period.
Berni fouled out early in the overtime session and Popovic put Zalgiris back on top with 2 free throws. Zoric got 1 back for the hosts. A pretty high-low play from Zoric to Freeland resulted in a slam and a Zoric steal set Valters up for a triple that made it 73-69. Despite a timeout, Unicaja suffocated Zalgiris on its next attack and Valters hit a back-breaking triple on the two-minute mark. Kalnietis responded quickly, but Freeland grabbed a missed Fitch shot and threw down another monster slam. Popovic free throws were rendered meaningless as Freeland went inside for a basket-plus-foul. Popovic got back to the line to make it 81-75 with 1:08 to play. Valters practically sealed the outcome with 2 more from the line and Fitch iced the game with his next basket.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011