CSKA is one victory away from becoming the first team this decade to finish a Euroleague regular season undefeated after beating Unicaja 76-70 in Group C at home in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday. CSKA improved to 13-0 and guaranteed itself the top record of any team in the competition at the end of the regular season. It also did a favor to Panathinaikos of Group C and Winterthur FCB of Group B, who qualified mathematically to the Top 16 with this result. Unicaja dropped to 5-8, its chances to make it to the Top 16 reduced to a couple of scenarios requiring at least two losses by either Tau Ceramica or Ulker. Marcus Brown led the winners with 21 points, J.R. Holden added 17 while Antonio Granger had 12 for CSKA. J.R. Bremer had 19 points for Unicaja, Berni Rodriguez and Stephane Risacher each added 12, Pepe Sanchez had 10 while Jorge Garbajosa grabbed 11 rebounds for the guests. CSKA used a 10-0 run to break the game soon after halftime and resistes as Unicaja got as close as 6 points near the finish.
Unicaja got on the scoreboard on 2 free throws by Risacher following the tipoff. Brown hit right back with a driving layup, but baskets proved scarce after that. Risacher finally connected from 5 meters and J.R. Bremer added a jumper as Unicaja pulled away 2-6 in the fourth minute. CSKA got the best of an exchange of baskets and then Dikoudis hit consecutive shots inside as the hosts took 13-10 lead and forced Unicaja's first timeout. Risacher got the visitors within 14-12 on a pull-up jumper, and after Holden sank free throws, Pepe Sanchez hit his first basket for Unicaja to keep the guests within a basket, 16-14 after 10 minutes
Defense and low scoring continued as the trend in the second quarter. Garbajosa evened the score at 16-16 for Unicaja, and after Sanchez was fouled while driving, he knocked down 2 free throws to put the guests back in front, 16-18. Zan Tabak added a fastbreak dunk on a feed from Sanchez to boost the Unicaja lead to 16-20 before Holden struck back with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Tabak's free throws were followed by another Holden drive that tied the score at 21-21 in the 12th minute. When Unicaja went back on top 21-23 on a soaring dunk from Floran Pietreus, CSKA took another timeout, but the visitors reached the middle of the quarter with their biggest lead, 21-27, Garbajosa and Pietrius added 2 points each. In came Papaloukas to ignite CSKA again with a three-pointer and a drive that led to free throws and a 27-26 score. A triple by Berni Rodriguez revived Unicaja, but Martin Muursepp matched him with a basket-plus-foul and soon David Andersen was hitting a long two-pointer to give CSKA a lead back that it preserved at 36-34 when the half arrived.
CSKA asserted itself early in the second half. Brown fed Anderson inside the Unicaja zone defense and then got to the line for his own free throws and a 40-36 lead. Garbajosa kept Unicaja close until Antonio Granger popped a three-pointer that made it 43-38. Granger went back and hit from the same spot on the next possession for CSKA's largest lead yet, and it only grew from there with a shot by Muursepp from the lane and a post-up basket by Anderson that boosted the difference to 50-38. Unicaja simply could not connect, missing a series of putbacks, but Bremer finally hit a long two-pointer. Sanchez followed soon with a three-pointer to get the visitors within 52-43, but Brown sank a long three-pointer from the left wing in response. This was CSKA's quarter. Brown and Granger finished it strong and the hosts took a commanding 16-point lead, 63-47, after 30 minutes.
Despite CSKA's third-quarter run, Unicaja came out fighting in the fourth as Bremer hit a pair of quick baskets to cut the difference to 63-51, and Rodriguez drilled a triple from the left corner to cap a 0-7 run. After a layup by Alexei Savrasenko, Bremer was back with his own shot from the arc, and the difference was down to 65-57. After a CSKA timeout with 6:50 remaining, Florent Pietrus his 1 of 2 free throws, but Unicaja allowed offensive rebounds twice on the next possession, which Papaloukas finished with a layup. Bremer would not go away, however, and his free throws got Unicaja to within 69-62 with under 5 minutes left. Holden came out of a timeout and made a tough leaner from the corner but Garbajosa's free throws left the same six-point difference, 73-67, with 2:20 remaining. Holden stayed hot, hitting a jumper from the right side, and Brown soon added free throws to the lead. CSKA guarded it to the finish, giving itself a chance to make history in the final regular season game next week.
Wednesday, February 2, 2005
Carl Schreck, Moscow