Unicaja Malaga took hold of fourth place in Group A on Thursday with a hard-fought 75-77 road win at Charleroi in Belgium. The victory lifted Unicaja's record to 5-4 and helped lessen the effect of a last-minute loss at home last week to co-leader Benetton Treviso. This time, Unicaja knew how to finish off what it started, but just barely. It took two free throws by Milan Gurovic down the stretch to let the visitors breathe easily. Charleroi, meanwhile, missed a chance to possible climb out of last place. Instead, its record dropped to 2-7. Veljko Mrsic led the winners iwth 17 points and 8 rebounds, the latter spearheading a 35-24 advantage on the boards for Malaga. Danya Abrams added 12 points and Gurovic 10. Charleroi got 19 ponts each from reserve John Jerome and Roger Huggins, 14 from Luis Rowe and 10 from Jacques Stas.
The game started with a big battle for control of the rebounds as both teams searched to impose themselves inside, which explained the poor score after five minuts: 6-4. Malaga broke that open behind Gurovic and Abrams to an early gap of 8-20. Dominated, Charleroi was forcing and so loosing its collective play, even if Rowe scored 8 points in the first quarter to pull his team withing 14-23.
Malkjovic then subbed Moustapha Sonko in place of Carlos Cabezas, who had been excellent, and the change seemed to disturb Malaga. With better team play on offense, Charleroi managed to come back to within 22-27 after 16 minutes. But when feeling the danger, Malaga accelerated. And as Charleroi was unable to score easy shots, it was enough to go away to a 26-40 halftime lead, based on 7 points from Mrsic and 9 from Abrams.
If Charleroi wanted to come back, it had no other way than to balance out the rebounding (11-24 till then) and to rise its shooting accuracy (8 for 26 FG). That is exactly what happened, little by little: 36-48, 47-58 and then 52-62 after the third quarter; Charleroi chipped away and Malaga seemed to have more difficulties, especially against Rowe, who scored a pair of three-pointers, and Huggins, who scored 8 of his points in the quarter. On the other hand, each time the danger became closer, Mrsic, Frederic Weis or Berni Rodriguez reacted. So the gap was still 10 points, 62-52, after three quarters.
But Charleroi didn't stop fighting. On the contrary, Jerome seemed now hot and Stas gave him the help he needed to cut the deficit to 59-64. Malaga was now doubting and couldn't anymore impose its physical power. Jerome (11 points in the last quarter) and Huggins brought Charleroi, who missed some lay-ups, till 2 points from its opponent. But Malaga resisted till the end. But Charleroi didn't stop to fight. On the contrary, Jerome seemed now hot and Stas gave him the help he needed: 59-64. Malaga was now doubting more and imposing its physical power less. Jerome (11 points in the last quarter) and Huggins brought Charleroi, who missed some layups, within two points from its opponent. But Malaga resisted until the end.
Thursday, December 20, 2001
Stephane Druart, Charleroi