Unicaja held on to its limited options to qualify for the Top 16 with a 75-63 home win on Wednesday over Montepaschi. The guests from Siena started strong and had comfortable margins in the first half, but a great Louis Bullock and the change of pace given to the game by Berni Rodriguez pulled Unicaja away for good in the last quarter. With the win, Unicaja improves to 3-7 in Group B while Montepaschi drops to 5-5 for fifth place. Bullock led the winners with 20 points and Walter Herrmann added 10. For Montepaschi, David Andersen scored 16 points with a great first quarter, Vrbica Stefanov added 14 and Bootsy Thornton nailed 10.
Tough defenses held off the scorers until Thornton hit 2 free throws for Montepaschi after 2 minutes. A quick triple by Vrbica Stefanov for 2-5 then sparked a good run for Montepaschi, led by center David Andersen, who moved well without the ball in the paint and went on to score 8 points in the quarter. His first shots, on assists from Stefanov, made the score 4-13. Unicaja reacted with a 5-0 run but Mindaugas Zukauskas hit a triple for 9-16. Unicaja shot 3 of 11 from the floor in the quarter, which made Montepaschi's 7-for-12 accuaracy enough to pull away to a comfortable lead. Louis Bullock's triple for Unicaja was not a turning point, either, because as Stefanov sealed the quarter with a basket for a 16-22 Montepaschi advantage.
The second period started bad for Montepaschi, as Andersen was called his third foul and went to the bench. At the same time, Walter Herrmann woke up and led Unicaja on a 12-2 run with 7 points of his own. The help defense of Unicaja and the lack of Andersen in the paint drove the guests crazy. Not until almost 5 minutes of the second quarter had passed did Mikalis Kakiouzis scored the first basket for Montepaschi. When Herrmann lowered his level though, Unicaja found another leader in German Gabriel, who hit 6 points in 3 minutes. Despite that superiority, Unicaja didn't know how to break the game. Giacomo Galanda hit a turnaround jumper and Thornton a triple to leave Montepaschi within 33-32. A last run led by Bullock and Gabriel left things at 37-32 at the break, in Unicaja's favor.
A 0-7 run by Montepaschi to start the second half was sealed with a triple by Stefanov, but Bullock's own shot from the arc helped Unicaja. A strong and ordered defense allowed the guests to earn slim margings, even though Andersen seemed to have lost momentum since the first quarter. After Unicaja committed 4 turnovers in just a few plays, Bullock emerged as the leader the home team needed. He had 4 straight points and then joined Berni Rodriguez in hitting back-to-back triples as Unicaja shot ahead by 6 points, 54-48. For Montepaschi, Stefanov tried to run up his team's total but another Unicaja triple, by Larry Lewis, led to a 59-50 edge for Unicaja after three quarters.
The last quarter was an exhibition by Unicaja, who played at ease with Bullock leading the way. The quarter opened with a triple by Rodriguez for 62-50, the hosts' first double-digit lead. That led to a quick 9-2 run that included baskets by Moutsapha Sonko, Bullock and Chuck Kornegay. Despite a little resurgence by Andersen in the last minutes, the game could not escape from Unicaja's hands. The hosts extended their lead to 14 points at 70-56 with 3 minutes to go. Andersen and Dave Vanterpool made late tries for Montepaschi, but the deficit was not trimmed down, and the hosts cruised to the win.
Wednesday, January 21, 2004