Magnificent defense allows Unicaja to overcome reigning champs Fenerbahce
Unicaja Malaga outlasted Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul 68-67 as the clash between the reigning 7DAYS EuroCup and Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champions produced a thrilling opening night battle in southern Spain. The outcome was decided on the final buzzer when Kostas Sloukas’s attempted game-winner bounced off the rim, giving Unicaja a vital victory which largely came about through superb team defense in the second half. The Spanish team’s collective effort is evident from the fact that Unicaja won despite only one player – Giorgi Shermadini with 12 – scoring in double digits. The most telling statistics were team achievements rather than individual: Unicaja claimed 9 steals while forcing Fenerbahce into 13 turnovers, won the rebounding battle 32-22, and only allowed the reigning champs to score 26 points in the second half. Fenerbahce was led by 15 points and 7 assists from Sloukas, while Jan Vesely combined 12 points with 8 rebounds and Gigi Datome scored 13 points.
Cheered on by a noisy crowd, Unicaja struck first with Adam Waczynski’s three-pointer starting off a 6-0 opening run. But Fenerbahce quickly came back with a triple from Brad Wanamaker and Datome’s smooth jumper completing a 0-9 tear. The first quarter ended tied at 20-20, but Sloukas scored the first 4 points of the second to put Fenerbahce in charge. Marko Guduric then scored 5 straight and Sinan Guler struck a triple to make it 22-32, but Dejan Musli turned the momentum with 9 points and a blocked shot in less than three minutes. Waczynski hit another three as Unicaja kept fighting, and halftime arrived with Fenerbahce leading 36-41.
The visiting team maintained a handy advantage with a 0-7 run including triples by Wanamaker and Datome, and a big slam by Vesely
extended the advantage to double figures before the end of the third. But it was far from over. After struggling earlier on, Ray McCallum ignited by scoring the first 6 points of the final quarter as Unicaja came back to 56-57, before two baskets from James Augustine capped a 13-0 run to give the home team its first lead since the first quarter. Fenerbahce had been held scoreless for more than five minutes before Vesely stopped the rot from the foul line, but Unicaja’s defense refused to yield and Dragan Milosavljevic’s put-back lay-up made it 68-60 with just over two minutes remaining. Two baskets from Sloukas and a triple from Datome made it a one-point game, and it all came down to the final possession, but Sloukas missed and Unicaja celebrated.
Thursday, October 12, 2017