Zalgiris edged Unicaja 67-65
Zalgiris registered its second win in Turkish Airlines Euroleague regular season Group B by downing Unicaja 67-65 in Kaunas, Lithuania on Wednesday night. Zalgiris improved to 2-5 and rejoined the Top 16 race in this group while Unicaja dropped to 3-4 but plays 2 of its 3 remaining games in front of their fans. Sonny Weems led the winners with 18 points and 11 rebounds, including the go-ahead dunk in the final minute. Marko Popovic added 11 points while Ty Lawson had 10 for Zalgiris. Gerald Fitch led Unicaja with 15 points. Kristaps Valters and Joel Freeland each added 12 while Luka Zoric had 11 for the guests. Weems and Paulius Jankunas fueled a 10-0 opening run that allowed Zalgiris to get a 19-11 margin after 10 minutes. Weems kept pacing Zalgiris but got some help from Lawson and Milovan Rakovic to keep the hosts way ahead, 35-24, at halftime. Unicaja improved with Zoric at center and a one-handed floater by Jorge Garbajosa brought his team within 50-42 after 30 minutes. Fitch and Freeland took over in the fourth quarter to make Unicaja regain the lead, 63-65, after a 3-15 run. Free throws by Popovic and a dunk by Weems allowed Zalgiris to win the game, as Valters missed a shot in the game's final possession.
Weems got Zalgiris going with a put-back dunk and a big block against Tremmell Darden. Unicaja went scoreless in the opening three minutes during which back-to-back layups by Jankunas gave the hosts a 6-0 lead. Unicaja missed its first five shots and committed 4 turnovers. Meanwhile, Robertas Javtokas shined with a tip-in before a wild off-balance shot by Weems forced the guests to call timeout at 10-0. Zoric buried a catch-and-shoot six-meter jumper for the visitors’ first tally and Fitch sank a turnaround jumper, however Weems answered from downtown to send the crowd to their feet at 15-4. Unicaja tried a more versatile frontcourt with Garbajosa and Nedzad Sinanovic together on court. Valters sank 3 of 4 free throws, but Mantas Kalnietis and Mindaugas Kuzminskas kept the hosts way ahead, 19-7. Hrvoje Peric banked in a jump hook and Garbajosa added foul shots to bring Unicaja within 19-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Lawson shined with a driving layup early in the second quarter to restore a double-digit Zalgiris lead, 21-11. Freeland scored down low and Unicaja tried a 2-3 zone defense. Weems punished it with floating jumper, but free throws by Garbajosa gave Unicaja some hope at 23-15. Freeland provided a highlight with a one-handed alley-oop layup that Lawson erased with foul shots. Peric took over with a driving basket before Lawson beat the shot clock with a long jumper. Unicaja tried to speed up the game tempo by using short possessions. Valters nailed a three-pointer to get the guests even closer, 27-22. Rakovic set the crowd on fire with a fast break dunk - and the free throw that came with it - and an alley-oop slam by Kuzminskas forced Unicaja to call a much-needed timeout at 32-22. Unicaja kept collecting turnovers, however, while a free throw by Rakovic and a put-back layup by Tadas Klimavicius made it a 13-point game. A huge dunk in traffic by Zoric got Unicaja within 35-24 at halftime.
Javtokas dunked right after the break and a free throw by Lawson gave his team a 38-24 lead. Freeland tried to ignite Unicaja's comeback with a fast break layup only to see Weems erase it with a baseline jumper. Zoric sank a step-back shot in the lane and Unicaja raised its intensity on defense. Zoric kept pacing the guests by drawing offensive fouls and splitting free throws, but Weems stepped up with a jumper off a steal. Zoric, now playing center alongside Garbajosa, took over with a wild put-back layup, but he didn't find much help around. Unicaja kept excelling in defense, however, and a fast break layup by Fitch made Zalgiris stop the game at 42-33. Zoric hit a foul shot and Lawson beat the guests' 2-3 zone defense with a three-pointer. Fitch made free throws that Kuzminskas matched with a tip-in, good for a 47-36 Zalgiris lead. Valters and Popovic traded three-pointers before a free throw by Zoric and a one-handed floater by Garbajosa fixed the score at 50-42 through three quarters.
Garbajosa struck from downtown early in the fourth quarter to bring Unicaja back to life, 50-45. Javtokas rescued Zalgiris back-to-back hook shots, as Unicaja brought Freeland back in the game to guard him. Fitch scored in penetration and exchanged free throws with Weems to keep Unicaja alive, 55-48. Berni Rodriguez shined with a backdoor layup but Popovic quickly answered from downtown to give Zalgiris some fresh air, 58-50. A stop-and-pop jumper by Weems forced Unicaja to call timeout, 60-50, with over 6 minutes left. Fitch buried a three-pointer and Valters copied him right after that to get Unicaja as close as 60-56. Freeland took over with a huge slam and a free throw by Fitch made it a one-point game, 63-59. Popovic buried a corner triple but Fitch brought Unicaja within 63-61 with 2:58 to go. Unicaja found its usual go-to guy in Freeland, who followed a backdoor layup with a two-handed slam that completed his team's comeback, 63-65. Free throws by Popovic tied it at 65-65 with 1:26 to go. Weems shined with a big baseline dunk, but Valters and Popovic traded missed shots from downtown and Unicaja took possession with 12.7 seconds left. Valters had a final chance to send the game to overtime, but his driving shot hit the rim seconds before the final buzzer.
Wednesday, November 30, 2011