Skipper Bologna kept itself in the thick of the Group B race halfway through the regular season by clinching another road win, this on in Malaga against Unicaja, 72-80, on Wednesday. Despite playing without injured starters Milos Vujanic at point guard and Thomas Van Der Spiegel at center, Skipper improved to 4-3 and a guarantee of at least fifth place after the first leg. Unicaja falls to 1-6 and will have to come up with a miracle in 2004 to advance. Carlos Delfino was the man of the game, leading Skipper with 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 25 minutes. Gianluca Basile added 17 points and 5 assists for the winners, while Matjaz Smodis scored 14 and Hanno Mottola 11. Moustapha Sonko led Unicaja with 25 points on 8-for-12 field goals and 6-for-7 free throws, while Berni Rodriguez had 10 for the hosts.
Unicaja struggled in the opening minutes, while Basile and Smodis made shots for a 0-4 Skipper lead. Once Mous Sonko made a three-point play for Unicaja, however, things changed. That sent the hosts on a run in which Larry Lewis made a turnaround jumper and Chuck Kornegay added a fastbreak layup for Unicaja's first lead, 8-6. Skipper was demonstrating a dynamic offense, with both frontcourt units, Mottola and Smodis, facing the basket looking for open shots, creating space for perimeter players to run to the basket. It paid off as Basile followed a layup in penetration with a three-pointer to put the guests ahead 12-15. Unicaja improved its defense suddenly, and then Sonko drilled a long two-pointer, added 2 free throws and a layup to give the lead back to the hosts, 18-17. There the score stayed at the end of the first quarter, as both teams went scoreless in the final minute. Despite making just 8 of 22 shots, Skipper trailed by just one point.
Skipper switched by a 2-3 zone defense in the second quarter, which Sonko and Berni Rodriguez punished with 2 three-pointers, then a put-back layup by Carlos Cabezas gave Unicaja a six-point lead, 26-20. Skipper stayed close with outside shooting, as Basile and Smodis responded from downtown. With 2 free throws and a four-meter jumper by Mottola, and a step-back jumper by Carlos Delfino, the guests re-took a lead at 27-28. Skipper switched back to man-to-man defense after a timeout by Unicaja, then both teams exchanged baskets for a while, but it was clear that Delfino was on fire. He made a well-defended three-pointer to tie the game 33-33. After Darren Phillip scored in the low post, Unicaja went scoreless in the final minute. Meanwhile, Delfino drilled a five-meter jumper and threw down a fastbreak dunk almost at the buzzer to give the visitors a 35-39 halftime lead.
Unicaja managed to get easy baskets early in the third, as a three-meter jumper by Kornegay, a dunk by Walter Herrmann and a layup by Lewis helped the hosts tie the game at 41-41. Skipper switched back to zone defense, and it paid off, as they used a 4-10 run, in which Delfino and Smodis scored 5 points apiece, to get back the lead at 45-51. Unicaja boss Sergio Scariolo called timeout, and Unicaja also switched to a 2-3 zone defense, but Delfino drilled a long two-pointer from the left corner, to extend the guests' lead to 9, 45-54. Sonko stepped up for Unicaja, with a layup and a big three-pointer, while both teams fought for every ball at both ends of the court. Erazem Lorbek put in 3 points and Mottola 2 free throws to boost Skipper's lead to 51-59, before Sonko added a free throw for a 52-59 scoreboard after 30 minutes.
Sonko opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer to make it 55-59, but that is as close as Unicaja was until the final buzzer. Belinelli scored a three-pointer and a fast break layup, while Mottola added a five-meter jumper to extend Skipper's lead to double-digits, 56-66. Delfino's two baskets and Basile's three-pointer maintained the difference at 63-73 with 5 minutes to go. Unicaja held Skipper scoreless for more than 2 minutes, but could only add 2 free throws by Sonko and a finger roll layup by Herrmann to make it a six-point game, 67-73, with less than 2 minutes remaining. Even while the hosts never gave up, Basile made 4 free throws and Gianmarco Pozzecco 4 more to seal the win for Skipper.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003