Unicaja bested KK Zagreb 67-72
Unicaja secured a spot in the Euroelague Top 16 for the seventh season in a row after downing KK Zagreb 67-82 in Zagreb Arena on Wednesday. Carried by big men Luka Zoric and Joel Freeland, and with some timely fourth quarter three-pointers by Berni Rodriguez, Unicaja moved to 4-5 in Group B with one game to go in the regular season. Zagreb, on the other hand, dropped to 2-7 in its first Euroleague campaign and will need a win in Kaunas and a lot of help from other teams to sneak into the next round. Freeland led all scorers with 17 points along with 8 rebounds. Zoric scored 16 and collected 8 rebounds, while Rodriguez scored 11 with all 3 of his three-point shoots coming in the final quarter. Hrvoje Peric added 10 points and dished out 4 assist n his second career Euroleague start. Krunoslav Simon led the home side with 16 points and 7 rebounds and Josh Heytvelt netted 12.
Unicaja opened the scoring through E.J. Rowland, but that was the only basket Unicaja managed in the opening four minutes. Damir Rancic hit a three-pointer and Simon's reverse layup gave the advantage to Zagreb. Gerald Fitch and Mario Kasun exchanged easy lay-ups before Freeland’s basket-plus-foul tied the game at 7-7. Simon scored a floater and a transition layup to give the home team another lead with help from big men Kasun and Heytvelt, who controlled their own paint with 2 blocks each. But Freeland and Zoric then both scored from inside, and after Kasun answered each time, Unicaja scored twice in transition through Zoric and Peric to tie the game at 15-15. Sean May made a low-post basket as well as the additional free throw, and Damir Mulaomerovic added couple more from the charity stripe to give Zagreb its first 5-point lead. Peric answered with a jump hook, Heytvlet made a long jumper, but Jorge Garbajosa hit a three to end the first quarter with Zagreb up 22-20.
Peric and Zoric extended the visitors’ run with easy baskets to start the second quarter, and Mark Payne scored in the lane to cap a 2-11 run and force Zagreb head coach Vladimir Androic to call a timeout after only 71 seconds in the quarter. Simon scored a runner, but Augusto Cesar Lima’s basket-plus-foul continued Unicaja’s success on offense. Kasun again found a way to score inside, but Payne’s jumper and Lima’s jump-hook gave Unicaja a 26-33 advantage with over six minutes left in the half. Both teams continued to push the ball; Simon scored a running floater and Rancic hit his second three, but Payne hit another jumper and Rodriguez drove down the middle to keep Unicaja in front 31-37. After a couple of turnovers and missed threes on both sides, Heytvelt made his first three-pointer of the game. On the other end, though, Zoric hit 4 free throws and Freeland’s tough layup and easy transition dunk made it 36-45 with less than a minute to go in the half. Heytvelt responded with a tough three-pointer, and then he missed one to end the second quarter as Unicaja held 39-45 halftime lead.
Freeland used a low-post move to open the scoring in the third quarter, and Simon answered with a layup. After Rowland and Mulaomerovic exchanged threes, Fitch split free throws and Zoric made both of his, followed by Freeland’s lay-up on a perfectly executed fast break to give visitors their first double-digit lead of the game, 44-55. Simon did once again penetrate through Unicaja’s defense for a lay-up, and May followed up with two free throws, but Unicaja answered with six quick points - Freeland made two long jumpers from the exact same spot and Fitch had a lovely drive through Zagreb’s defense to make it 48-61 after 26 minutes. Zagreb tried with a 2-3 zone defense that worked, but all they managed on the other end of the floor was one jumper by Saso Ozbolt. In the meantime, Peric scored a pirouette-like layup and Fitch hit long two to make it a 15-point game before Simon’s 2 free throws made it 52-65 at the end of three quarters.
Unicaja stepped up on defense allowing only 1 free throw in the opening three minutes of the final quarter and forcing 4 turnovers, while Rodriguez hit a three-pointer to loosen the home team’s zone defense. A jumper from the left side by Zoric extended the lead to 17 points, and Zagreb’s hopes for a comeback took a hit when Simon limped off the floor with little over five minutes to go. Rancic managed a basket-plus-foul, but Rodriguez hit back-to-back threes, and Peric’s coast-to-coast layup made it 62-80. Zagreb refused to go down as Petar Babic made a three-pointer and Heytvelt added free throws. After a Zoric turnover Zagreb had a chance to cut the deficit even more, but Zoric grabbed a rebound after Ozbolt’s miss, and then hit a jumper himself to seal the game making it 67-82 with minute-and-a-half to go.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011