Efes Pilsen has given a big push to its Final Four dream with a rousing 74-75 road win at Unicaja on Wednesday that left the Turkish champs still undefeated in Group D. Kaspars Kambala swooped in from the perimeter and dunked a missed layup by Marcus Brown with 14 seconds left to settle what had been a back-and-forth game most of the second half. Kambala scored 6 of his floor-high 25 points in the final 90 seconds, while Brown had 21 more and Kaya Peker 12 for the winners. Efes is now 2-0 and tied for first place in the group with CSKA Moscow. Unicaja, meanwhile, is 0-2 in a pair of home games and had its hopes dashed on Wednesday despite being ahead most of the way. Ademola Okulaja had 21 points for Unicaja, Milan Gurovic 15 and Louis Bullock 13, but turnovers down the stretch hurt the Spaniards badly.
The first minutes of the game were marked by Unicaja's early 5-0 lead, as the hosts came out running fastbreaks. Ademola Okulaja scored his sixth point for a 9-2 Unicaja lead after 5 minutes, but Efes reacted through the men who are their decisive players always, Kambala and Brown. A 0-5 run sealed with a three-point play by Kambala made it 9-7. A great combination between Roger Esteller and Berni Alvarez set the scoreboard at 11-7, while Chuck Kornegay was huge in the defensive end for Unicaja, making 2 straight blocks against Omer Onan that allowed his team to lead 15-11 after 10 minutes, precisely after his last basket, the tip-in of a miss on the offensive boards.
Unicaja coach Bozidar Maljkovic went on with his bench-rotation philosophy while Oktay Mahmut maintained on court practically the same team as 4 straight points by Kambala to start the second period tied the game at 15-15. Soon Bullock from downtown, and later Gurovic with a spectacular three-point jam, earned Unicaja another six-point lead, 21-15. Kambala went for his sixth point in the period, which was also Efes' sixth point, and he remained as the most dangerous power for Efes on offense, also scoring for the 25-19. A fast triple by Gurovic and Frederic Weis' layup earned Unicaja the first double-digit lead of the game, 30-19. But then, the hosts' defense slowed down, allowing Efes to run on offense, and with a 1-8 run sealed by Brown's three-point play, the Turkish team cut the deficit down to 30-27. Unicaja found some more concentration in the last plays of the first half, but Francisco Vazquez just couldn't stop Kambala in defense, as the latter hit his 15th point in the game for the 37-32 at the break.
A confident Efes came out for the second half intent on erasing the deficit. It took only 4 minutes to complete the task, with a reverse layup by Kambala and dunk by very active Kaya Peker knotting the scoreboard 41-41. Okulaja immediately yanked the net with a triple to calm the Malaga crowd, but within a minute, Peker had scored again and Brown was putting in 2 of 3 free throws for the first Efes lead, 44-45. Neither team would let the other have it for long after that. Bullock drove to get the lead back for Unicaja at 46-45, while Tunceri's second jumper in a short stretch put it back in the hands of Efes, 50-51. For the second consecutive play, Okulaja got a basket-plus-foul, this time making the free throw for a 53-51 Unicaja lead. Brown got the last say of the quarter, however, on a great drive that came with a free throw and was good for a 53-54 Efes lead after 30 minutes.
The fourth quarter started with Unicaja making a move with inside baskets by Frederic Wies, Carlos Cabezas and Kornegay for a 59-56 lead. After an Efes timeout, Peker landed another jumper to make it 59-58, but Unicaja called its own timeout and ran a play for Gurovic, who nailed his shot. Brown came down the other end and, after a long offensive rebound, drained a triple to tie it 61-61. But if he could do it, so could Gurovic, who launched his own bomb from the top of the arc. Peker fouled out with 4 minutes left, but Ender Arslan lifted Efes within one, 64-63, with a lane jumper. After Sonko drove for a layup for Unicaja, Brown put in an alley-oop reverse for 65-66. With 1 minute 30 seconds left, after he had been blocked by Weis, who missed two free throws, Kambala got his first points of the quarter, and they gave Efes a 66-67 lead. Gurovic got them right back however with a pair of free throws for 68-67. Then came the play that put Efes up for good, a pick-and-roll layup from Brown to Kambala. After a Sonko charge, less obvious than one a minute earlier by Gurovic, a Brown miss fell between two Unicaja rebounders to Antonio Granger, who scored a layup with 34 seconds left to make it 68-71 Efes. The next play seemed to decide it, as Brown drove for a layup and Kambala made his flying dunk follow. But Okulaja sank a three for 73-71, which meant that Brown needed to sink his 2 free throws to preserve the win when Bullock beat the buzzer with another triple.
Wednesday, March 5, 2003