Two Group D teams without options to advance to the Quarterfinal Playoffs, squared off in Malaga, Spain on Thursday night and when the dust settled, Unicaja was victorious by 68-64 against visiting Zalgiris. Unicaja could say goodbye to its crowd in the Euroleague this season with a win that lifts its record to 2-3, even though Winterthur FCB and Olympiacos had previously qualified for the next round. On the other hand, Zalgiris remains winless with a 0-5 mark. Unicaja started the game dominating, but a great night by young Mantas Kalnietis allowed Zalgiris to be back in the game and retain options until the end. Free throws by Florent Pietrus secured Unicaja's win. Stephane Risacher led Unicaja with 12 points while Daniel Santiago added 10. For the guests, Kalnietis led the way with 15 points behind 5 of 6 two-point shots. Simonas Serapinas added 14 with 4 of 5 triples and Darjus Lavrinovic nailed 11 points and pulled 11 boards.
The score opened with a 1-0 when Florent Pietrus scored a free throw, but he soon added a dunk for 3-0. Simonas Serapinas soon replied with a triple for Zalgiris. Despite a slow start to the game, Tanoka Beard and Pietrus stepped up again to trade baskets for a 7-6 score. Beard was still the major force for Zalgiris, but a three-point play by Stephane Rosacher launched Unicaja to a 15-5 run as Marcus Brown scored 5 stright points including a triple and Daniel Santiago scored from the paint for a 22-11 Unicaja lead. Only Darjus Lavrinovic scored again in the first quarter as the score showed a 22-13 Unicaja lead after 10 minutes.
The only point in three minutes of the quarter arrived also from Lavrinovic's hands when he sank a free throw. Zalgiris was back on track in the following plays but two triples by Berni Rodriguez gave Unicaja new life to stay ahead at 28-22. Paulius Jankunas found a new bucket to pull within two points, and young Mantas Kilnietis did the same when the score was 30-28 in minute 19. Kalnietis himself posted two free throws to tie the game at 30-30. Unicaja's own youngster, Alfonso Sanchez made his Euroleague debut with a basket that put an end to the first half with a 3-point edge for the hosts, 33-30.
Santiago and Kenny Anderson traded baskets to start the third quarter, and Risacher and Serapinas did the same as the score went up to 37-35. Risacher stepped up with a triple for Unicaja, but Serapinas replied again. Beard and Kalnietis, with four straight points by himself, finally put Zalgiris ahead by 2 points, 43-44. Unicaja regrouped fast as Risacher and Santiago scored straight buckets to launch Unicaja again. All other aspects of the game were also balanced and only Unicaja's performance from the arc allowed it to keep the advantage in the score. Pepe Sanchez only confirmed that when he close the third period with a new bomb for a 51-45 score after 30 minutes.
Lavrinovic and Ginevicius hit buckets for Zalgiris to start the last period, and Walter Herrmann replied with his own layup. However, the guests were hungry for the first Top 16 win and Lavrinovic put Zalgiris ahead again, 53-54. More triples were in order when Ginevicius and Sanchez traded bombs for a 58-57 and 4 minutes to go. Fouls on Sandro Nicevic were translated into points from the free-throw line and he added a layup to make it 63-57. But Zalgiris replied with two triples as Serapinas and Kalnietis posted triples to tie at 63-63 again with less than two minutes to go. Beard went to the line with less than one minute to go, and missed one attempt for a 65-64. Sanchez did the same in the following play and with 66-64, Beard missed two free throws again. Pietrus still had time after Zalgiris' timeout to post two more free throws to seal the deal and giva Unicaja a new, but useless, win in the Top 16.
Thursday, March 23, 2006