Unicaja made club history on Thursday, becoming a Top 16 group champion for the first time and reching the Quarterfinal Playoffs by thrashing Dynamo Moscow 73-62 in front of a sellout crowd of 10,000 wild fans in Malaga, Spain. Unicaja improved to 4-1 while Dynamo now ties with Benetton Treviso for the second spot at 3-2. Since Dynamo hosts Benetton in Game 6 and Unicaja has the tie-break advantage against both teams, the Spanish side claimed first place already. As such, Unicaja will have the home court advantage in the three-game Quarterfinal Playoffs series against Winterthur FC Barcelona, which will finish second in Group F. Meanwhile, Dynamo faces a do-or-die showdown against Benetton in the Russian capital next week, with the winner advancing to the playoffs to face Panathinaikos. Unicaja's hero was Marko Tusek, who came off the bench for 19 points while Marcus Faison added 10 as a balanced Unicaja offense saw three other players score 9 points. Dynamo didn't have a single double-digit scorer as Sergey Bykov, Sergey Monya and Andrei Trushkin each had 9 points. Unicaja broke open the game midway through the second quarter, when Tusek poured in 11 points. Unicaja led 46-33 at halftime and boosted its margin to 65-41 after 30 minutes, enough to give its loyal fans reason to dream now about the Final Four.
Lazaros Papadopoulos opened the scoring with a free throw but surprise starter Ignacio De Miguel answered with a layup for a 2-1 Unicaja lead. Jiri Welsch made foul shots while Carlos Cabezas hit a triple from the top the key to cap a 7-0 Unicaja run. Eddie Gill steped up with a layup-plus-foul but Berni Rodriguez scored for a 9-4 Unicaja lead. Bojan Popovic and Rodriguez traded layups while free throws by Dmitry Domani and Papadopoulos got Dynamo within 11-9 midway through the opening quarter. Domani scored in transition but Daniel Santiago answered with free throws. Unicaja kept struggling in offense, so it carried on attacking the basket to go to the line often. Popovic and Carlos Jimenez traded foul shots while Trushkin shined with a three-point line to tie it at 16-16. Santiago dunked, igniting a 7-0 run in which Faison followed a triple from the right wing with a baseline jumper to give Unicaja a 23-16 lead after 10 minutes.
Trushkin scored around the basket early in the second quarter but Rodriguez answered from downtown, igniting a 7-0 run that Marko Tusek capped with a driving layup for a 30-18 Unicaja lead. Trushkin stepped up with a layup and Yuri Vasilyev shined with a floating jump hook, making Unicaja call timeout at 30-22. Tusek took over with an off-balance three-point play while Kostas Vasileadis scored off a midcourt steal to make it a 13-point game, 35-22. Monya tried to rescue Dynamo with a big triple and Popovic added free throws in a 0-7 run that Papadopoulos capped with a put-back layup. Faison shined with a layup-plus-foul but Popovic answered with a driving basket for a 38-31 Dynamo deficit. Tusek hit a triple and Jimenez added a layup to restore a 12-point Unicaja margin, 43-31. Free throws by Papadopoulos and another triple by an outstanding Tusek fixed the halftime score at 46-33.
Unicaja improved its defense right after the break while Tusek hit one from downtown and added an easy layup to give the hosts a 51-33 margin. Dynamo went scoreless for more than 2 minutes until Gill buried a triple but Rodriguez shined with a drving layup to keep Unicaja ahead, 53-36. The hosts kept finding good options, so Dynamo called timeout to fix its many problems. Sanchez banked in a short jumper right before picking up his fourth foul while Welsch hit a corner triple for a 22-point Unicaja lead, 58-36. Antonis Fotsis found his first points on an easy layup but Tusek bettered it with another three-pointer, good for a 61-38 Unicaja margin. Dimitriy Khvostov and Cabezas traded layups while Welsch buried a jumper for another game-high margin, 65-41, at the end of the third quarter.
The outcome of the game was already clear, but Dynamo tried to ignit a quick rally to at least lose by 6 points or less and keep its options to finish first in Group G. Unicaja had other ideas in mins, however, as it managed to trade baskets early in the final period. Santiago banked in a short jumper for a 69-45 Unicaja margin. Bykov shined with a three-point play but Unicaja had started to use long possessions, backed by an incredible crowd. Faison shined with a layup off a steal but Monya answered from downtown to get Dynamo within 71-51. Everything was said and done already, as Unicaja now has a historical chance to make it to its first-ever Final Four, while Dynamo needs another win to keep fighting for Euroleague glory.
Thursday, March 15, 2007