Unics Kazan survived a thriller to be remembered by edging PBC Lukoil Academic 79-80 in the teams’ Group B opener in Bulgaria. Marko Popovic had a quiet game and hit only one shot for the guests, but the timing couldn't be any better, as his triple with 0.7 seconds to go silenced the home crowd and didn't leave Academic enough time for an answer. Popovic's miracle shot spoiled a milestone game for Academic star Todor Stoykov, who became the first player in competition history to reach 1,000 points. Academic trailed for most of the game before taking the lead in the last five minutes, but missed free throws in the last minutes ended up to cost greatly for the Bulgarian champs. Terrell Lyday paced Unics with 6 three-pointers en route to 23 points, Tariq Kirksay shined with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists, Artem Kouziakine scored 11 points in only seven minutes off the bench and Dmitry Sokolov added 10 points for the winners. Riste Stefanov led the hosts with 18 points, Stoykov posted 17 and Kevin Krugger chipped in with 16, while Kenny Adeleke grabbed 16 rebounds.
Center Sokolov started with authority for the guests, blocking Tim Pickett's shot on the very first possession. Kirksay opened the scoring with a layup for Unics, and though Tencho Banev matched him on the other end, Lyday and Kirksay each nailed triples for an early 2-8 lead. After Stoykov hit 2 from the line for Academic, Sokolov overpowered the hosts inside, single-handedly outscoring them 1-8 in a span of three minutes. Then Kirksay and Lyday took over, damaging Academic from downtown as well as from the free-throw line to give Unics a 12-27 lead after the first quarter. Kresimir Loncar came off the bench to start the second quarter by outscoring Academic 2-5, but the hosts finally found their offensive rhythm with a 10-0 run, as Stefanov scored 8 straight points to force Unics head coach Aco Petrovic to call a timeout at 25-32. It helped little, as Pickett, Adeleke and Stefanov added 6 more unanswered points for the hosts, almost evening the score at 31-32. Finally, Igor Zamansky went to the line and scored 2 for Unics, but Adeleke wasn't to be denied inside, scoring twice to give the hosts their first lead of the night at 35-34. However, Unics substitute Kouziakine stole the show with an impressive 9 points in less than two minutes to put Unics back in front and make it 37-43 at the halftime.
After an exchange of missed shots, Adeleke powered his way to an offensive rebound and a put-back, but Lyday answered with yet another triple for the guests. Layups by Lyday, Kirksay and Sokolov gave Unics a 41-52 lead, before Academic's shooters picked it up, as Kruger made a rare four-point play, Stefanov nailed a three-pointer and Kruger added another hit from downtown to cut it to 51-52. Lyday didn't hesitate to answer by hitting his fifth triple of the game, and after Chavdar Kostov and Banev helped Academic get closer, Lyday split 2 free throw and it was 54-56 – and anybody's game with 10 minute to go. Banev started the fourth quarter strong inside for Academic, while Lyday and Kirksay stayed hot for Unics. Lyday nailed his sixth from downtown to give Unics a 65-69 lead with five minute to go. However, Academic had a player who would answer the call at this crucial moment – the competition’s all-time scoring leader Todor Stoykov. He connected on a three-pointer that would mark his 1,000th point in Eurocup games and then went to the line to give the hosts a 70-69 lead. Kruger and Eugeny Voronov exchanged buckets, and neither team was able to hit anything for the next two minutes. Academic still was 1 point ahead going into the last minute of the game. Adeleke drew an unsportsmanlike foul from Zamansky that gave Nenad Canak a chance to hit 2 free throws, Kruger split his free throws on the following possession to make it 75-71. An exchange of free throws followed, and Academic seemed to be in perfect shape after Stoykov hit 2 for a 78-75 lead. But seconds later, Stefanov missed on his second free throw attempt, giving Popovic a chance to get the ball and make a triple that would silence the home crowd and give Unics a 79-80 victory.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008