Efes Pilsen shook things up in Group B with a convincing 91-75 victory over Unicaja at the Abdi Ipekci Arena in Istanbul, Turkey, on Wednesday night. Efes moved within one victory of a three-way tie for first place in the group at the halfway point of the season. Ender Arslan scored 7 during a 14-0 second period run that gave the hosts a 20-point lead, from which Unicaja never recovered. The lead sat at 51-36 at halftime and after Efes increased it to 23 early in the third, the visitors didn't closer than 15 the rest of the way. Efes improves to 4-3, trailing Unicaja, Lietuvos Rytas and the winner of Thursday's game between Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv and Aris TT Bank for first. Unicaja dropped to 5-2 and joins the previously mentioned clubs in a three-way tie for first. Drew Nicholas led the winners with 16 points and 7 assists, Scoonie Penn added a season-high 15, Ermal Kuqo had 13, Arslan 11 and both Loren Woods and Kerem Gonlum scored 10 each. Daniel Santiago finished with a Euroleague career-high 25 points and 8 rebounds for Unicaja, Jiri Welsch added 13 and Davor Kus 11.
Both sides played to their big men in the paint as the game got underway. Unicaja had more early success than Efes mostly due to center Santiago, who had an excellent first 10 minutes with dunks and skillful layups to score 15 of his team's first 21 points to dominate the first quarter. Efes kept the lead in the hand until an Unicaja 0-6 spurt gave the visitors a narrow 16-17 lead on a Carlos Jimenez layup. Then Efes started shooting well behind the arc, answering with 5 Penn points to regain control. Santiago tied things at 21-21, but a Kenny Gregory three plus 4 points from Nicholas left Efes ahead 28-21 lead at the end of the first period.
In the second quarter, Efes’s match-up zone defense was good enough to stop the visitors. After Welsch’s three pointer brought Unicaja within 32-26, the home team soared to a 14-0 run during which Ender Arslan scored 7 points. Woods’s layup gave the hosts a 20-point advantage, before Unicaja found points from Kus’s basket-plus-free throw, ending five minutes of silence. Santiago, who scored 15 in the first period but stayed scoreless until the last minute of the second period, scored 4 points in the last minute to make the score 51-36 at halftime.
Efes Pilsen made an impressive start to the third quarter and increased its lead to 23 points with another fast-break layup courtesy of Penn. Unicaja turned to a zone defense to try and stop Efes. It helped to slow the speed of the game as Welsch, Carlos Cabezas, Michal Chilinsky and Berni Rodriguez scored to get the visitors a bit closer. Chilinsky's first career three-pointer reduced the deficit to 16. Free throws from each side by Nicholas and Boniface N’Dong ended the third quarter at 71-55.
Efes once again built a 23-point gap early in the fourth as Penn hit a three-pointer followed by Gonlum's dunk. An Arslan fast-break layup gave Efes it's biggest lead, 83-58. Unicaja responded with 7 quick points – 6 of them from Santiago. But Efes continued to pour it on and raced back to 91-67, effectively sealing the outcome. Bojan Popovic’s three pointer and Welsch’s 5 points helped the visitors cut the difference at the end, but it was too little, too late as Efes celebrated victory.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007