Unicaja climbed within one step of its first-ever Final Four by thrashing Winterthur FC Barcelona 91-75 in Game 1 of their best-of-three Quarterfinal Playoffs series before a sellout home crowd of 10,400 fans in Malaga, Spain on Tuesday. Unicaja has a 1-0 lead in the series, which now moves to Barcelona, Spain for Game 2 on Thursday. Unicaja will advance with one more victory in that game or, if necessary, a third one back in Malaga on April 12. Marcus Faison led the winners with 17 points. Ignacio De Miguel added 13, Berni Rodriguez had 12, Marko Tusek 11 and Carlos Jimenez 10 for Unicaja, which saw 7 players combine to make 12 three-point shots on the night. Juan Carlos Navarro had 15 points for Barcelona, Denis Marconato and Gianluca Basile added 11 each while Jordi Trias and Roko-Leni Ukic chipped in 10 apiece. Tusek and De Miguel combined for 21 points in a pivotal second quarter during which a 17-2 run allowed Unicaja to take a 46-40 halftime edge. Rodriguez and Faison helped Unicaja to boost its margin to 72-59 after 30 minutes, as the hosts, pushed by an incredible crowd, kept a safe lead all the way until the final buzzer. That crowd also saw Unicaja center Daniel Santiago handed the Euroleague March MVP award by Francisco de la Torre, the mayor of Malaga, in a short ceremony before tipoff.
Unicaja went to Santiago three times consecutively to start the game, and he deliverd with a dunk and 2 fouls drawn on Fran Vazquez. Jimenez added a corner three-pointer for a 5-2 Unicaja lead befor Jaka Lakovic got Barcelona going with a triple. Afte Carlos Cabezas scored around the basket for the hosts, Basile tied it up 7-7. Unicaja kept finding Santiago, this time for a power layup, but Navarro took over the Barcelona offense with a jumper and free throws good for a 9-11 lead, the first for the guests. Basile buried a catch-and-shoot three-pointer to boost that advantage to 11-14. Denis Marconato added a put-back layup to it, but Santiago matched him with a hook shot while Cabezas and Jimenez pleased the crowd with consecutive fastbreak layups. Barcelona wasn't done yet, however. Basile hit his trademark triple off a screen, Navarro followed with his first from downtown and Ukic beat the buzzer with a layup as the guests bolted in front 17-24 after 10 minutes
Ukic kept Barcelona rolling with an electric driving layup right to start the second quarter. After four months sidelined due to injury, Marcus Brown came off the bench for Unicaja and drove for a layup that De Miguel followed with free throws. The visitors struggled against Unicaja's matchup zone defense until Michalis Kakiouzis buried a corner triple off a Barcelona timeout. De Miguel answered with a big basket in the low post and even when Navarro shined with his trademark running one-hand "la bomba" shot, Brown matched him with a jumper. Trias and De Miguel traded baskets before Ukic hit from downtown for a 27-36 Barcelona lead. A red-hot De Miguel answered from the arc, too, and Tusek joined the three-point shootout to get Unicaja within 33-36. Trias dunked for Barcelona, but Faison buried his own triple and Tusek another to put Unicaja back ahead, 39-38. Tusek followed a layup-plus-free throw with 2 more foul shots to cap a 17-2 Unicaja run to a 46-40 halftime lead.
Rodriguez stepped up with a layup right after the break, as Unicaja kept trying to get Santiago involved. Kakiouzis tried to get Barcelona going with a layup that Rodriguez matched in the other end. Kakiouzis finished a patient Barcelona offense with a reverse layup but Faison answered from downtown for a 53-44 Unicaja lead. Barcelona could not find the way to the basket, as Unicaja did not allow any easy shots. Meanwhile, Faison hit a corner triple that Navarro erased with an acrobatic three-point play. Jimenez matched that in the other end but Marconato took over with a dunk-plus-foul. Unicaja kept hitting three-pointers, as Rodriguez and Cabezas buried one apiece to make it a 13-point game, 65-52. Santiago and Marconato traded dunks while Jimenez shined with a tipín for a 69-54 Unicaja lead. Roger Grimau hit a jumper and Basile nailed his third triple but Rodriguez provided a highlight with a wild three-point play that gave Unicaja a 72-59 margin after 30 minutes.
Ukic tried to ignite a Barcelona comeback with a three-point shot early in the fourth quarter, but Unicaja kept powering the offensive boards and using long possessions to control the clock. Faison buried in a corner triple and Brown a driving layup to make it a 15-point game, 77-62, with 7 minutes to go. Marconato hit a short shot and Grimau added free throws, but another three-pointer by Pepe Sanchez kept Unicaja out of trouble at 80-66. Sanchez took over with an acrobatic layup as Barcelona simply ran out of chances midway through the final period. Faison sent the crowd to its feet with a reverse layup and even when Barcelona kept fighting, everything was said and done already. Faison hit another triple and De Miguel added a fastbreak layup, as all Unicaja fans started to celebrate a night of Euroleague history-making in their arena.
Tuesday, April 3, 2007