After coming quite close twice, Unicaja clinched its first win in Group B on Thursday by beating Krka Novo Mesto, 87-77, before some relieved fans in Malaga, Spain. Both teams share a 1-4 record, tying Panathinaikos for a sixth-place. Unicaja played excellent defense, outrebounded their opponents 34-22 and found a go-to player in Walter Herrmann, who had his best game the season in leading the Spaniards to victory. Herrmann topped all scorers with 22 points on 5-for-5 three-pointers and grabbed 7 rebounds. Larry Lewis added 16 on 7-for-10 field goals and 7 rebounds, while Carlos Cabezas had 14, and Moustapha Sonko and Darren Phillip chipped in 12 apiece for the winners. Boris Gnjidic led all Krka scorers with 19 points, while Slavko Duscak had 17 and Rick Rickert added 16 on 7-for-13 field goals.
The first quarter was really exciting and fun to watch, as both teams bombed each other from downtown. Duscak opened the game with a wild three-pointer from the front end and a floating layupp, but Walter Herrmann made two threes to give Unicaja a 7-5 lead, breaking Krka's 2-3 zone defense. However, the game had an unexpected star in the first quarter, 36-year-old Boris Gnjidic, who soon made a three-pointer from the left corner and added two free throws to bring the guests ahead, 9-10. In fact, Duscak and Gnjidic combined for the first 15 Krka points. The game turned into a rain of threes, and four came in the following minute, by Herrmann, Carlos Cabezas, Jure Balazic and Duscak. Unicaja had made 4-for-5 three-pointers midway through the second quarter, but Novo Mesto had 5-for-5 and led 19-23! Gnjidic took over after a timeout by Unicaja's coach Sergio Scariolo, following a huge three-pointer in front of his defender with another basket to put Krka up by 8, 20-28. A three-point play by Lewis and a jumper by Rick Rickert at the buzzer closed the first quarter, in which Novo Mesto led 23-30. Strangely enough, both teams combined for 8-for-25 two-pointers and 10-for-12 from beyond the arch. Gnjidic and Duscak were already in double figures.
A layup by Rickert, another jumper by Gnjidic and a shot by Srdjan Subotic gave Krka its biggest lead, 24-36, early in the second quarter. Darren Phillip gave energy to Unicaja in both ends of the court, as Krka's backcourt stopped feeling unconfortable while both Phillip and Frederic Weis dominated in the paint. As such, Unicaja used an 8-0 run, in which Phillip had four points, who get back to the game, 32-36, with Gnjidic on the bench. Duscak and Marko Antonijevic, who had four consecutive points, helped Krka keep their lead, 39-44, but soon Unicaja took over. Two free throws by Carlos Cabezas ignited a 6-1 run in which Darren Phillip made a jump hook and Sonko added a fast break dunk to tie the game at 45-45, but Duscak was fouled while shooting a three, and he made all his free throws to help the guests reach the locker rooms ahead by three, 45-48, as Unicaja's defense did not allow Krka any three-pointer in the second quarter.
Marton Bader made back-to-back shots and Duscak added a layup in penetration to give Krka a six-point lead, 48-54. But Unicaja improved its defense, up to the point that Krka went scoreless for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, Unicaja went on a 14-0 run in which Herrmann scored seven points, including a three-pointer and a wild dunk in traffic. As such, Unicaja got back the lead, 64-50, but they committed three consecutive turnovers in as many offensive actions, while Rickert made a three-pointer, the first one by Krka since the first quarter, and a three-point play to bring the guests within two, 62-60. But a jumper by Lewis and five more points by Cabezas helped Unicaja enter the fourth quarter ahead by five, 69-64.
Antonijevic opened the fourth quarter with an off-balanced three-pointer as the shot clock expired, but Herrmann fired back, making his fifth three-pointer of the night. Unicaja played very aggressive defense early in the fourth, picking up fouls too soon, but it paid off, as a free throws by Herrmann, a fallaway jumper in the lane by Lewis and two freebies by Darren Phillip pushed Unicaja's lead to double digits, 77-66. Rickert stayed on fire, hitting another three, while Gnjidic added a fast break layup for his points since early in the second quarter to make it a six point-game, 77-71, with less than four minutes to go in the game. Lewis stepped up, hitting a turnaround jumper, and Krka only managed to make one field goal by Gnjidic and four foul shots by Subotic in the final two minutes. Meanwhile, Phillip and Lewis made two eays baskets, while Herrmann made a one-handed fast break dunk to seal the first Euroleague win for Unicaja this season, 87-77.
Thursday, December 4, 2003