The miracle of Ljubljana is still alive after a coast-to-coast drive and righthanded layup over two defenders by lefthanded Vlatko Ilievski gave Union Olimpia a thrilling 83-82 decision over a stunned visitor, Unicaja Malaga, in wild Group B on Thursday. The win puts the Slovenians atop the group tied with Tau Ceramica at 6-2, as both teams will face each other in Vitoria next week. Unicaja drops to 4-4, tied with Montepaschi Siena for fourth place. Unicaja was ahead during most of the game but both Ilievski and Marino Bazdaric were there to avoid Unicaja's revenge for a home loss way back in opening week. Ilievski was the best scorer for the hosts with 21 points. Bazdaric added 18, Goran Jurak 14, Roberts Stelmahers 11 and Josko Poljak 10. For Unicaja, Louis Bullock led the way with 18 points, Chuck Kornegay tallied 13 and Milan Gurovic bagged 10.
All the ten starters gave their best in defense during the first minutes, but the fans in Ljubljana saw how their team forged a 4-0 first and then a 7-4 in minute 5. Only Kornegay was there for Unicaja scoring the first 6 points of his team. Unicaja jumped ahead 7-8 and the quarter ended with a miraculous basket by Carlos Cabezas that left Unicaja ahead by 1 again, 15-16.
Boza Maljkovic waited until the second quarter to put Bullock on court, and the player answered by increasing the rhythm of his team, which out Union Olimpija into heavy trouble. Bullock and Berni Rodriguex gave Unicaja a 20-24 lead in minute 13. In the next play, Frederic Weis scored over Poljak, and then two straight threes by Stephane Risacher and Gurovic put silence in teh mouths of the 4,000 fans that packed the Tivoli arena. It was the time for Tomo Mahoric to calla timeout and his instructions were clear: to keep Unicaja away from the paint, from where the guests were getting high shooting percentages, and force them to shoot from long range. Even though Olimpija shot below 62% while Unicaja hit for a 72% in two-point shots, the hosts managed to arrive to the break with a 31-36 deficit that was not decisive yet.
Unicaja started the second half where it had ended the first: marking differences and hitting everything from under the rims. Kornegay, Ademola Okulaja and Risacher widened the gap to 11 points, 37-48 in minute 23, and the same three were protagonists of the 46-56 in minute 26. Olimpija was working well in defense but the results from that work were not there, because Unicaja was still shooting at 61% from the field. It was like that until minute 25, when the pressure also started to affect the Spaniards. With the baskets by Jurak, the hosts pulled within 5 points for 51-56 which became 55-56 in minute 29 after the 15th point by Bazdaric. A three by Bullock two seconds before the end of the period gave Unicaja 4 points to defend in the last period, 58-62.
The hosts needed more than 3 minutes in the quarter to tie the score for the first time since minute 7, after a three by Ilievski, 64-64, and another minute to jump ahead, 66-64. But joy didn't last in Ljubljana as Gurovic hit for three twice for 66-70, but Unicaja didn't maintain this advantage, and it didn't again with 70-75 and only 3 minutes to go. Roberts Stelmahers scored 4 straight points and Ilievski added another basket for the second lead in the second half, 76-75 with only 2 minutes to go. They were 2 breathtaking minutes and points were only scored from the free throw line. Until only 17 seconds remained, when Stelmahers hit a difficult basket against Gurovic to leave Olimpija ahead, 81-80. In the last play, the hosts waited until there were 4 seconds to go to foul Cabezas, who hit his two free throws and gave a 1-point lead for Unicaja, 81-82. Ilievski appeared then to take the ball and the responsibility, crossing the court and hitting a long layup in front of Gurovic and Bullock with his right hand to give the win to Olimpija. And he is left-handed.
Thursday, December 12, 2002