Near the end of a long and difficult regular season, Krka rewarded its home crowd in Novo Mesto, Slovenia with a last-second 78-77 home win over Unicaja in Group B on Wednesday. Krka trailed by 12 points early in the final quarter, but Slavko Duscak led the comeback and Rick Rickert put the hosts ahead before Marton Bader blocked the last shot of Unicaja on the buzzer. Thus, Krka improves to 2-10 and Unicaja drops to 3-9 and is mathematically eliminated from the Top 16 race. Rickert led the way for Krka with a double-double of 22 points and 10 boards. Duscak added 20 with 3 of 4 triples and Clarence Gilbert, with 5 triples, finished with 18 points. For Unicaja, Carlos Cabezas had 13 points, Berni Rodriguez and Louis Bullock 12 each, the latter thanks to 4 triples.
Krka coach Petar Skansi surprised everyone by starting young Jure Balazic in place of veteran Boris Gnjidic, who was sick. Krka jumped out to a 6-2 edge after Gilbert nailed his first triple, then increased the margin to 10-2, before Bullock rattled in a shot from the three-point arc. Rickert was almost unstoppable, with 7 points in 4 minutes, as the scoreboard reached 16-9. The only good news for Unicaja was that Krka guard Marko Antonijevic commited a third foul and had to go to the bench. Soon, Lewis scored 2 free throws and Chuck Kornegay added a basket to pull Unicaja within 16-14. But Rickert and Duscak forged a 7-0 run for a 23-14 Krka advantage after 10 minutes.
Berni Rodrigez nailed a triple for Unicaja to open the second quarter. Then, the scoring stalled for a few minutes. As Krka continued to struggle on defense, Darren Phillip and German Gabriel took Unicaja up to 26-24. With a second three-pointer from Rodriguez, Unicaja almost caught Krka at 28-27 after 16 minutes. But Rickert sank his 13th point and Marton Bader added his first three as Krka escaped to 33-29. The first tie came when Phillip made it 33-33, and soon after Unicaja took its first lead. Rodriguez scored the final basket of the first half to keep the visitors ahead 37-38. Rickert was on 13 points for Krka, while Rodriguez had 12 for Unicaja.
The second half started with 3 free throws for Mindaugas Budzinauskas and another lead for Krka, 40-38. The scoreboard was balanced soon after that, when Stephane Risacher scored his first points. Duscak nailed his first triple for Krka, but Bullock once again led his team with 6 points in a row for a 43-48 score. Krka's defense was beaten by Carlos Cabezas but Rickert proved that he can shoot from the arc and cut the difference to 47-50. With free throws from Lewis and Risacher, Unicaja once again took a seven-point lead, 47-54. A third shot from downtown by Gilbert and another basket by Rickert wasn't enough to keep Unicaja from securing a 56-64 with Bullock's fourth triple to end the third quarter.
The last period started with a two-minute scoring drought until Walter Herrmann scored his first points for Unicaja's biggest lead, 56-66. Krka tried a zone defense but Herrmann made it a 12-point lead, 58-70. After 8 points in a row from Duscak and Gilbert, Krka was back within 66-73. Duscak would be Krka's man as 5 more points left his hands to make it 73-75, while Gilbert hit his fifth triple to put the hosts ahead 76-75 with 2 minutes to go. Free throws by Phillip would be neutralized by Rickert's layup that made it 78-77. On the last play, Bader soared to block Cabeza's shot at the buzzer, leaving a second victory to the Novo Mesto fans.
Wednesday, February 4, 2004
Jernej Tisu, Novo Mesto