More than a few hearts stopped on Wednesday night in Malaga, Spain as Zalgiris Kaunas took an amazing last-second win on the road against Unicaja, 77-78, thanks to the intelligence of guard Ed Cota, who pulled a crucial offensive rebound and hit the layup to decide the game with only 2 seconds to go. Mous Sonko tried to score for Unicaja in the time that remained, but when he couldn't, Zalgiris was taking its first win in the Euroleague this season back to Kaunas. For Unicaja, the sight of another home game slipping through its hands meant a drop to 1-2 in Group B and the likelihood that it will need more road wins to survive. The winners were led by Kornel David, who sank 20 points. Gintaras Einikis added 15 for the winners and Cota 13. For Unicaja, Milan Gurovic scored 16, Louis Bullock 15 and Adam Wojcik 14.
Adam Wojcik was the protagonist early for Unicaja, with 4 points, and Carrawell the author 6 points for Zalgiris as a tremendous dunk by David off a fastbreak forged an early 8-8 tie. Gintaras Einikis was the next in line for points on Zalgiris, with 8 consecutive points. But Milan Gurovic and Fran Vazquez kept the hosts close at 14-16. Zalgiris was penetrating easily into the paint, and Unicaja head coach Bozidar Maljkovic ordered a zone defense to force the visitors to shoot outside. A layup by Carlos Cabezas tied the game at 16, then a three nailed by Berni Rodriguez to provoked a 19-16 Unicaja lead and the first timeout for Zalgiris. Unicaja were dominating the offensive boards at that point, with 5 of their 8 rebounds on that end. The hosts forced long offensive plays on Zalgiris and Uniaja held on for a 20-18 edge after 10 minutes. Bullock stepped on court for the second period, but it was Zalgiris who got going early in the quarter. David shot from mid-range, and Darius Salenga hit for a two-plus-one play for a 22-26 lead for the guests. Unicaja looked for some leadership in the next minutes as Maljkovic rotated in many players. Still, David led his mates on another 4-12 burst for a 26-35 Zalgiris advantage in minute 15, that despite Unicaja's good rebounding. Zalgiris shot more than 50 percent from the field (14 of 23), while the hosts were stuck at 10 of 21. But just when Unicaja looked to be in trouble, the hosts ressuscitated for a 9-2 run led by Gurovic, that lit up the stands of the Martin Carpena arena. A fastbreak by Wojcik sealed the comeback, tying the game at 37-37 as Unicaja regained control at 39-37 by the half.
The second half saw the same Unicaja as in the last minutes of the first half. Zalgiris also improved on offense, as though both teams had decided that was the ticket to victory. A quick 6-0 run for the hosts forged the 47-42 score, but a three by Einikis some minutes later culminated a comeback for the guestsat 54-53. David scored his 18th point in minute 25, while Unicaja forced fastbreaks after good defense. Both teams had similar numbers in all aspects of the game. Unicaja outrebounded Zalgiris only by 20-18, while from the free throw line the hosts shot 9 of 11, against the 11 of 13 of the guests. Cota woke up in the offensive end, but at the same time, Sonko seemed to have a reply for each basket by Cota as the score reached 60-57. A 2-7 run for the guests, left the score at 62-64 after 30 minutes.
Good defenses for long and unsuccessful offensive plays were the script for the first moments of the final quarter. Zalgiris even managed to pull 3 offensive boards, but no balls ended in the basket, and after 3 minutes, the score was still the same, 62-64. Unicaja played fast and suffered a couple turnovers, prompting Maljkovic to call timeout. The spell was broken by Carrawell with a jumper almost 4 minutes into the quarter, 62-66. Bullock decided that he should once again take charge, and did so with a three-point play. With each play crucial, the defenses grew tougher and tougher, but David had no trouble sinking his 20th point from down under. Bullock continued saving his team with a three to tie the game again, 72-72, and set the fans in a frenzy. An offensive foul called on Saulius Stombergas with 45 seconds to go and 74-76 on the scoreboard were the ingredients that would offer another breathtaking ending in Malaga. Sonko, at the free throw line, made the first and missed the second, but Unicaja rebounded and Sonko made a layup for a 77-76 Unicaja lead with 23 seconds left. In the following play, Zalgiris played a long attack, interrupted by a tactical foul by Unicaja that did not come with foul shots. The Lithuanaians started the last play again. Carrawell missed the shot, but Cota, one of the shortest players on the court, not only took the offensive rebound, but flicked in the layup to put Zalgiris ahead 77-78. In the final 2 seconds, Sonko let fly a halfcourt shot that missed by inches, after which the win was flying to Kaunas.
Wednesday, October 23, 2002